[Federal Register: February 16, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 30)]

[Rules and Regulations]               

[Page 7517-7529]

From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]




Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Parts 20 and 21

RIN 1018-AF05


Migratory Bird Permits; Establishment of a Conservation Order for 

the Reduction of Mid-Continent Light Goose Populations

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: Mid-continent light goose populations (lesser snow and Ross' 

goose combined) has nearly quadrupled within the last 30 years, and 

have become seriously injurious to their habitat and habitat important 

to other migratory birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service 

or ``we'') believes that these populations exceed the long-term 

carrying capacity of their breeding habitats and must be reduced. This 

rule adds a new subpart to 50 CFR part 21 for the management of 

overabundant Mid-continent light goose populations, and establishes a 

conservation order to increase take of such populations under the 

authority of this subpart.

DATES: This rule takes effect immediately upon publication on February 

16, 1999.

ADDRESSES: Copies of the EA are available by writing to the Chief, 

Office of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 

Department of the Interior, ms 634--ARLSQ, 1849 C Street NW, 

Washington, DC 20240. The public may inspect comments during normal 

business hours in room 634--Arlington Square Building, 4401 N. Fairfax 

Drive, Arlington, Virginia.



    Lesser snow and Ross' geese that primarily migrate through North 

Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri, and winter 

in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and eastern, central, and southern 

Texas and other Gulf Coast States are referred to as the Mid-continent 

population of light geese (MCP). Lesser snow and Ross' geese that 

primarily migrate through Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado and winter in 

New Mexico, northwestern Texas, and Chihuahua, Mexico are referred to 

as the Western Central Flyway population of light geese (WCFP). Ross' 

geese are often mistaken for lesser snow geese due to their similar 

appearance. Ross' geese occur in both the MCP and the WCFP and mix 

extensively with lesser snow geese on both the breeding and wintering 

grounds. MCP and WCFP lesser snow and Ross' geese are collectively 

referred to as Mid-continent light geese (MCLG) because they breed, 

migrate, and winter in the ``Mid-continent'' or central portions of 

North America primarily in the Central and Mississippi Flyways. They 

are referred to as ``light'' geese due to the light coloration of the 

white-phase plumage morph, as opposed to true ``dark'' geese such as 

the white-fronted or Canada goose. We include both plumage morphs of 

lesser snow geese (white, or ``snow'' and dark, or ``blue'') under the 

designation light geese.

    MCLG breed in the central and eastern arctic and subarctic regions 

of northern Canada. MCLG populations are experiencing high population 

growth rates and have substantially increased in numbers within the 

last 30 years. We use operational surveys conducted annually on 

wintering grounds to derive a December index to light goose 

populations. December indices of light goose populations represent a 

certain proportion of the total wintering population, and thus are 

smaller than the true population size. By assuming that the same 

proportion of the population is counted each December, we can monitor 

trends in the true population size.

    The December index of MCP light geese has more than tripled within 

30 years from an estimated 800,000 birds in 1969 to approximately three 

million birds in 1998 and has increased an average of 5% per year for 

the last ten years (Abraham et al. 1996, USFWS 1998b). The December 

index of WCFP light geese has quadrupled in 23 years from 52,000 in 

1974 to 216,000 in 1997 (USFWS 1997b), and has increased an average of 

9% per year for the last ten years (USFWS 1998b). The lesser snow goose 

portion of the 1998 MCP December index mentioned above is estimated to 

be 2.8 million birds. In 1991, the Central and Mississippi Flyway 

Councils jointly agreed to set lower and upper management thresholds 

for the MCP of snow geese at 1.0 million and 1.5 million, respectively, 

based on the December index. Therefore, the current December index of 

MCP lesser snow geese far exceeds the upper management threshold 

established by the Flyway Councils.

    MCLG populations have also exceeded North American Waterfowl 

Management Plan (NAWMP) population objectives, which are also based on 

December indices. The MCP lesser snow goose December index of 2.8 

million birds far exceeds the NAWMP population objective of 1 million 

birds (USDOI et al. 1998d). The lesser snow goose portion of the WCFP 

light goose December index is estimated to be 200,000 birds, which 

exceeds the NAWMP population objective of 110,000 birds (USDOI et al. 

1998d). The estimate of the Ross' goose component of the MCLG 

population December index (WCFP and MCP combined) currently exceeds 

200,000 birds. This far exceeds the NAWMP Ross' goose population 

objective of 100,000 birds

[[Page 7518]]

(USDOI et al. 1998d). We compare current population levels to NAWMP 

population objectives to demonstrate that MCLG populations have 

increased substantially over what is considered to be a healthy 

population level. We are not suggesting that MCLG be reduced for the 

sole purpose of meeting NAWMP population objective levels.

    By multiply the current MCLG December index of 3.2 million birds by 

an adjustment factor of 1.6 (Boyd et. al 1982), we derive an estimate 

of 5.12 million breeding birds in spring. This is corroborated by 

population surveys conducted on light goose breeding colonies during 

spring and summer, which suggest that the breeding population size of 

MCLG is in excess of five million birds (D. Caswell pers. comm. 1998). 

Included in these population estimates are 1998 estimates for breeding 

and non-breeding adult Ross' and lesser snow geese in the Queen Maud 

Gulf area northwest of Hudson Bay of 1.29 million and 1.82 million 

birds, respectively (Alisauskas et al. 1998). These geese are in 

addition to the millions of geese estimated to be nesting along west 

Hudson and James Bays where the geese have precipitated severe habitat 

degradation and on Southampton and Baffin Islands where signs of 

habitat degradation are becoming evident. The estimate of 5.12 million 

birds does not include non-breeding geese or geese found in un-surveyed 

areas. Therefore, the total MCLG population currently far exceeds 5.12 

million birds. Assuming a 10% growth rate in the breeding population 

over the next three years, the population will grow from 5.12 million 

to approximately 6.8 million in the absence of any new management 

actions. Again, this represents a minimum estimate because non-breeding 

geese and geese in un-surveyed areas are not included.

    Although our intention is to significantly reduce MCLG populations 

in order to relieve pressures on the breeding habitats, we feel that 

these efforts will not threaten the long-term status of these 

populations. We are confident that reduction efforts will not result in 

populations falling below either the lower management thresholds 

established by Flyway Councils, or the NAWMP population objectives 

discussed previously. Monitoring and evaluation programs are in place 

to estimate population sizes and will be used to prevent over-harvest 

of these populations. An overview of these monitoring programs is 

presented in a subsequent section of this document.

    The rapid rise of MCLG populations has been influenced heavily by 

human activities (Sparrowe, 1998, Batt 1997). The greatest attributable 

factors are:

    (1) The expansion of agricultural areas in the United States and 

prairie Canada that provide abundant food resources during migration 

and winter;

    (2) The establishment of sanctuaries along the Flyways specifically 

to increase bird populations;

    (3) A decline in harvest rate; and

    (4) An increase in adult survival rates.

    Although all of these factors contributed to the rapid rise in MCLG 

populations, the expansion of agriculture in prairie Canada and the 

United States is considered to be the primary attributable factor 

(Sparrowe 1998, Abraham and Jefferies 1997). Today, MCLG continue to 

exploit soybean, rice, and other crops during the winter, primarily in 

the Gulf Coast States and are observed less frequently in the natural 

coastal marshes they historically utilized. Similarly, MCLG migrating 

through the mid-latitude and northern United States and prairie Canada 

during spring migration exploit cereal grain crops consisting of corn, 

wheat, barley, oats and rye (Alisauskas et al. 1988). For example, an 

estimated 1 to 2 million MCLG stage in the Rainwater Basin in Nebraska 

from mid-February to mid-March and primarily feed on corn left over 

from harvesting (USFWS 1998a). These crops provide MCLG with additional 

nutrients during spring migration, thus assuring that MCLG arrive on 

the breeding grounds in prime condition to breed. Increased food 

subsidies during spring migration over the last 30 years has resulted 

in higher reproductive potential and breeding success (Ankney and 

McInnes 1978, Abraham and Jefferies 1997). Consequently, more geese 

survived the winter and migration and were healthier as they returned 

to their breeding grounds in Canada.

    This is not intended to criticize the conservation efforts 

accomplished by the implementation of conservation-oriented 

agricultural practices. Such efforts have benefitted numerous wildlife 

species. We merely point out that MCLG have exploited these artificial 

resources, resulting in an increase in survival.

Foraging Behavior of MCLG

    The feeding behavior of MCLG is characterized by three foraging 

methods. Where spring thawing has occurred and above-ground plant 

growth has not begun, lesser snow geese dig into and break open the 

turf (grubbing) consuming the highly nutritious below-ground biomass, 

or roots, of plants. Grubbing continues into late spring. Lesser snow 

geese also engage in shoot-pulling where the geese pull the shoots of 

large sedges, consume the highly nutritious basal portion, and discard 

the rest, leaving behind large unproductive, and potentially 

unrecoverable areas (Abraham and Jefferies 1997). A third feeding 

strategy utilized by many species is grazing which in some cases, 

stimulates plant growth. Both lesser snow geese and Ross' geese graze. 

Due to their shorter bill size, Ross' geese are able to graze shorter 

stands of grass.

    Grubbing, grazing, and shoot-pulling are natural feeding behaviors 

and at lower population levels have had positive effects on the 

ecosystem. For example, at lower numbers, geese fed on the tundra 

grasses and actually stimulated growth of plant communities resulting 

in a positive feedback loop between the geese and the vegetation. 

However, the rapidly expanding numbers of geese, coupled with the short 

tundra growing season, disrupted the balance and has resulted in severe 

habitat degradation in sensitive ecosystems. The Hudson Bay Lowlands 

salt-marsh ecosystem, for example, consists of a 1,200 mile strip of 

coastline along west Hudson and James Bays, Canada. It contains 

approximately 135,000 acres of coastal salt-marsh habitat. Vast 

hypersaline areas devoid of vegetation degraded by rapidly increasing 

populations of MCLG have been observed and documented extensively 

throughout the Hudson Bay Lowlands (Abraham and Jefferies 1997). 

Rockwell et al. (1997a) observed the decline of more than 30 avian 

populations in the La Perouse Bay area due to severe habitat 

degradation. These declines and other ecological changes represent a 

decline in biological diversity and indicate the beginning of collapse 

of the current Hudson Bay Lowlands salt-marsh ecosystem. Experts fear 

that some badly degraded habitat will not recover (Abraham and 

Jefferies 1997). For example, in a badly degraded area, less than 20% 

of the vegetation within an exclosure (fenced in area where geese 

cannot feed) has recovered after 15 years of protection from MCLG 

(Abraham and Jefferies 1997). Recovery rates of degraded areas are 

further slowed by the short tundra growing season and the high salinity 

levels in the exposed and unprotected soil.

    Long-term research efforts have indicated signs of ``trophic 

cascade'' in La Perouse Bay, Cape Henrietta Maria, and Akimiski Island 

(R. Rockwell pers. comm. 1998). Trophic cascade is essentially the 

collapse of an existing food chain indicating that the ecosystem is 

unable to support its inhabitants. Impacts associated with trophic 

cascade are indicative that MCLG populations

[[Page 7519]]

have exceeded the carrying capacity of much of their breeding habitat. 

Impacts such as a decline in biological diversity and physiological 

stress, malnutrition, and disease in goslings have been documented and 

observations of such impacts are increasing. Additional observations in 

areas north of Hudson Bay on Southampton and Baffin Islands, northwest 

in the Queen Maud Gulf region, and south off the west coast of James 

Bay on Akimiski Island also suggest similar habitat degradation 

patterns from expanding colonies of MCLG. Batt (1997) reported the 

rapid expansion of existing colonies and the establishment of new 

colonies in the central and eastern arctic. In 1973, for example, 

Canadian Wildlife Service data indicated that approximately 400,000 

light geese nested on West Baffin Island. In 1997, approximately 1.8 

million breeding adults were counted. Similar colony expansions have 

been reported for the Queen Maud Gulf region and Southampton Island. 

Rapid colony expansion must be halted and the populations must be 

reduced to prevent further habitat degradation and to protect the 

remaining habitat upon which numerous wildlife species depend.

Breeding Habitat Status

    MCLG breeding colonies occur over a large area encompassing eastern 

and central portions of northern Canada. Habitat degradation by MCLG 

has been most extensively studied in specific areas where colonies have 

expanded exponentially and exhibit severe habitat degradation. For 

example, the Hudson Bay Lowlands salt-marsh ecosystem lies within a 

135,000 acre narrow strip of coastline along west Hudson and James Bays 

and provides important stopover sites for numerous migratory bird 

species. Of the 135,000 acres of habitat in the Hudson Bay Lowlands, 

35% is considered to be destroyed, 30% is damaged, and 35% is 

overgrazed (Batt 1997). Habitats currently categorized as ``damaged'' 

or ``overgrazed'' are being further impacted and will be classified as 

``destroyed'' if goose populations continue to expand. Accelerated 

habitat degradation has been observed by Canadian biologists on 

Southampton and Baffin Islands and appear to be following the same 

pattern as documented in the Hudson Bay Lowlands. Current research 

efforts are underway to confirm observations of habitat degradation by 

MCLG in other areas.

Migration and Wintering Habitat Conditions and Degradation

    There is no evidence to support that wintering habitat for MCLG is 

threatened or that it may limit population growth. Presently, there are 

approximately 2.25 million acres of rice fields in Texas, Louisiana, 

and Arkansas, in addition to the millions of acres of cereal grain 

crops in the Midwest. Consequently, food availability and suitable 

wintering habitat are not limiting MCLG during the migration and 

wintering portions of the annual cycle.

Summary of Environmental Consequences of Taking No Action

    At each site they occupy, MCLG will continue to degrade the plant 

communities until food and other resources are exhausted, forcing yet 

more expansion of colonies. The pattern has been, and will continue to 

be, that as existing nesting colonies expand, they exploit successively 

poorer quality habitats, which are less able to accommodate them and 

which become degraded more quickly. Eventually, the coastal salt-marsh 

communities surrounding Hudson Bay and James Bay will become remnant. 

There will be little chance of recovery of such habitat as long as MCLG 

populations remain high. Even if goose populations decline at some 

point due to natural causes, which may not occur to the degree 

necessary, it will take the habitat a prolonged time period to recover. 

The functioning of the whole coastal ecosystem, from consolidation of 

sediments by colonizing plants to provision of suitable habitats for 

invertebrate and vertebrate fauna, will be detrimentally and possibly 

irrevocably altered. Similar conditions will prevail at selected non-

coastal areas where MCLG have occupied most of the suitable nesting 

habitats. As many as 30 other avian species, including American wigeon, 

Northern shoveler, stilt sandpiper, Hudsonian godwit, and others, that 

utilize those habitats have declined locally, presumably due to habitat 

degradation by MCLG. Other species, such as Southern James Bay Canada 

geese, a species of management concern, that breed on nearby Akimiski 

Island and numerous other waterfowl species that migrate and stage with 

MCLG, have been and will continue to be negatively impacted. Arctic 

mammalian herbivores will also be impacted as the vegetative 

communities upon which they depend become depleted. Due to the rapidly 

expanding populations and the associated ecological impacts identified, 

we have concluded that MCLG populations have become seriously injurious 

to themselves and other migratory birds, their habitat and habitat of 

other migratory birds.

    We expect that MCLG populations will continue to grow at least 5-

10% annually, resulting in more severe and widespread ecological 

impacts. Although several factors influence population dynamics, the 

greatest single factor in the populations' increase is high and 

increasing adult survival rates (Rockwell et al. 1997b). Therefore, 

removing adults from the populations is the most effective and 

efficient approach in reducing the populations. Experts feel that 

breaking eggs and other non-lethal techniques have been determined to 

be ineffective in significantly reducing the populations within a 

reasonable time to preserve and protect habitat (Batt 1997).

    We have attempted to curb the growth of MCLG populations by 

increasing bag and possession limits and extending the open hunting 

season length for light geese to 107 days, the maximum allowed by the 

Treaty. However, due to the rapid rise in MCLG numbers, low hunter 

success, and low hunter interest, harvest rate (the percentage of the 

population that is harvested), has declined despite evidence that the 

actual number of geese harvested has increased (USFWS 1997b). The 

decline in harvest rate indicates that the current management 

strategies are not sufficient to stabilize or reduce population growth 


New Management Actions

    We realize that current MCLG management policies need to be re-

examined and believe that alternative regulatory strategies designed to 

increase MCLG harvest, implemented concurrently with habitat management 

and other non-lethal control measures, have the potential to be 

effective in reducing MCLG populations to levels that the remaining 

breeding habitat can sustain. Batt (1997) estimated that the MCLG 

population should be reduced by 50% by the year 2005. Based on the 

current MCLG December index of approximately 3.2 million birds, this 

would entail a reduction of the December index to 1.6 million birds. 

Using the adjustment factor of 1.6, this would translate to a minimum 

breeding population size of 2.56 million birds. The estimate of 2.56 

million birds does not include non-breeding geese or geese found in un-

surveyed areas. Therefore, the total MCLG spring population would be 

much higher.

    We prefer to implement alternative regulatory strategies designed 


[[Page 7520]]

increase MCLG harvest afforded by the Migratory Bird Treaty and avoid 

the use of more drastic population control measures. More direct 

population control measures such as trapping and culling programs may 

be necessary if the current regulatory action, in concert with habitat 

management, is not successful. Should the conservation order be deemed 

unsuccessful we will consider more direct population control measures 

to reduce MCLG.

    We restrict the scope of this proposed rule to mid-continent 

populations of light geese (MCLG): Mid-continent and Western Central 

Flyway lesser snow geese (Chen caerulescens caerulescens) and Ross' 

geese (C. rossi) and the United States portions of the Central and 

Mississippi Flyways (Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, 

Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, 

Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, 

South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) where they 

migrate, stage, or winter. Evidence exists to support the conclusion 

that MCLG which migrate, stage, and winter in these areas subsequently 

return to breed in the arctic and subarctic areas that are experiencing 

severe habitat degradation.

    We are concurrently implementing a separate population reduction 

strategy. In addition to this proposed rule to amend 50 CFR part 21, we 

are also amending 50 CFR part 20 to authorize the use of new hunting 

methods to harvest MCLG. The second rule would authorize States to 

allow the use of new hunting methods to harvest MCLG during a light-

goose only season when all other waterfowl and crane hunting seasons, 

except falconry, are closed. The second rule is published in this issue 

of the Federal Register.

    We do not expect the second rule (amendment to 50 CFR part 20) 

implemented alone to achieve our overall management objective of 

reducing the MCLG December index to approximately 1.6 million birds. 

The success of that strategy will hinge upon State participation, 

hunter participation, and hunter effectiveness. If a State does not 

participate, then its hunters will not be able to participate in that 

state, decreasing the program's potential. We anticipate that some 

northern and mid-latitude States will elect not to implement the second 

rule (authorization of electronic calls and un-plugged shotguns) due to 

the infeasibility of closing all other waterfowl and crane seasons 

during the fall. It is more likely that those states will participate 

in a conservation order during the spring, when it is more feasible to 

close all other waterfowl and crane hunting seasons, excluding 

falconry. Conversely, many waterfowl and crane hunting seasons in 

southern States close prior to 10 March. Therefore, it is much more 

feasible for southern States to implement the second rule by 

establishing a light-goose only season when all other waterfowl and 

crane hunting seasons, excluding falconry, are closed.

    We are implementing the conservation order in order to maximize the 

overall program's potential and to try to achieve our management 

objective within a reasonable time-frame. This action will be 

complemented by attempts to alter habitat management practices that 

tend to increase MCLG. These actions will reduce the likelihood of the 

need to use more direct population control programs. The conservation 

order will allow northern States to participate in this effort and 

enable them to harvest MCLG during spring migration, particularly after 

10 March. Harvest projections for the second rule (amendment 50 CFR 

part 20) are rolled into the harvest projections for the conservation 

order. Harvest projections for the second rule are not in addition to 

the harvest projections for the conservation order.

Conservation Order for MCLG

    We are establishing a new subpart in 50 CFR part 21 for the 

management of overabundant MCLG populations. Under this new subpart, we 

are establishing a conservation order specifically for the control and 

management of MCLG. Conditions under the conservation order require 

that participating States inform participants acting under the 

authority of the conservation order of the conditions that apply to the 


    Under the authority of this rule, States could initiate aggressive 

harvest management strategies with the intent to increase MCLG harvest 

without having to obtain an individual permit, which will significantly 

reduce administrative burden on State and Federal governments. A permit 

process would slow efforts to reduce the populations and prolong 

habitat degradation on the breeding grounds. This rule will enable 

States, as a management tool, to use hunters to harvest MCLG, by 

shooting in a hunting manner, inside or outside of the regular open 

migratory bird hunting season frameworks. States could maximize the 

opportunity to increase harvest of MCLG by implementing this action 

beyond 10 March, where historically States have been limited by hunting 

season framework closing dates to take migratory birds. In order to 

minimize or avoid take of non-target species, States may implement this 

action only when all waterfowl and crane hunting seasons, excluding 

falconry, are closed. We expect that this action will facilitate other 

protection and recovery efforts. This rule would further result in 

biologically sound and more cost-effective and efficient overabundant 

MCLG management and could preclude the use of more drastic direct 

population control measures such as trapping and culling programs. 

Although the desired goal is to reduce overabundant MCLG populations, 

we believe that this rule will not threaten the long-term status of 

MCLG populations or threaten the status of other species that could be 

impacted through the implementation of this rule. We have evaluation 

and monitoring strategies to assess the overall impact of this action 

on MCLG harvest and impacts to non-target species that may be affected 

by the implementation of this action.

Summary of Environmental Consequences of Action

MCLG Populations and Associated Habitats

    We project that we will harvest a cumulative total of two million 

MCLG over the next three years without the use of this action, based on 

current MCLG harvest trends. Under certain assumptions, our most 

liberal estimate is that we can expect to cumulatively harvest an 

additional 3.8 million MCLG over the next three years of implementation 

of this action. This would bring the total cumulative harvest to 5.8 

million MCLG after three years of implementation of this action. The 

amendment to 50 CFR Part 21 will be revoked if the December index of 

MCLG is reduced to the recommended level of approximately 1.6 million 

birds. Using the adjustment factor of 1.6, developed by Boyd et. al 

(1982) to convert winter indices to spring breeding population indices, 

this would result in a minimum estimate of 2.56 million breeding MCLG 

in spring. The total spring population would be higher because non-

breeding geese and geese in un-surveyed areas are not included in this 


    The impact is expected to be regional within the Central and 

Mississippi Flyway States that choose to participate in the 

conservation order. Since the action may take place between 11 March 

and 31 August, we expect MCLG take to increase among mid-latitude and 

northern States according to migration

[[Page 7521]]

chronology. Increased harvest will be further facilitated by the use of 

additional hunting methods (electronic callers and unplugged shotguns) 

authorized by a State under the authority of this rule. Although we can 

expect the additional hunting methods to be effective in increasing 

harvest per hunter, there is no precedent to guide us in determining to 

what degree they will be effective. It is equally difficult to 

ascertain to what degree the public will participate in the 

implementation of this action, which will influence its effectiveness. 

However, with certain assumptions, we may project an increase in 

harvest using existing harvest data.

    Before projecting the effect of the action on harvest we must 

establish several assumptions. We are assuming that all eligible States 

will act under the authority of this rule and will allow all new 

hunting methods authorized in the rule (electronic callers and 

unplugged shotguns), including the utilization of the maximum number of 

days available after the regular light-goose season. We are also 

assuming that current MCLG hunter numbers will not decrease and that 

the new methods authorized in this rule, if used, will increase hunter 

effectiveness and overall harvest. We do not assume that all MCLG 

hunters will participate in the implementation of this action and of 

those that do, we do not assume that all will increase their 

effectiveness by using new hunting methods. We are assuming that 25% of 

the MCLG hunters will use the new methods and will increase his/her 

effectiveness in harvesting MCLG.

    States that have MCLG after 10 March may choose not to harvest MCLG 

after 10 March. Of those that do, the number of days each State may 

harvest outside of their regular open light-goose season likely will 

vary. For purposes of this exercise, we are assuming MCLG harvest is 

consistent throughout the entire light-goose season and that all 

affected States will use the action. It is important to note that the 

relationship between the number of hunting days and harvest of 

migratory birds continues to be extensively analyzed. In that respect, 

our projections regarding MCLG harvest represent our best estimates 

based on existing data, and are considered to be a liberal estimate.

    We determined, based on a linear regression analysis of historical 

harvest data, that regular-season harvest of MCLG has increased 

approximately 31,600 MCLG per year for the last ten years. A simple 

linear regression of the harvest data represents our most conservative 

estimate because the analysis does not take into account other factors 

that may have influenced harvest, such as the recent regulation changes 

for light geese. A more complex analysis will demonstrate that harvest 

number has actually increased at a faster rate since the bag and 

possession limits for light geese have been increased (USFWS 1998c). 

Today, more MCLG are harvested with fewer hunters, but hunter 

participation in light goose hunting is now increasing. Therefore, we 

conservatively project that regular-season harvest will increase 31,600 

per year for the next several years.

    During 1997-98, hunters harvested 604,900 MCLG in the affected 

States (AR, CO, IL, IN, IA, KY, KS, LA, MI, MS, MO, MT, NE, NM, ND, OH, 

OK, SD, TN, TX, WI, and WY). Combined with our projection that regular-

season harvest will increase by 31,600 per year without any changes to 

hunting regulations, we can expect to harvest 636,500 MCLG in the 1998-

1999 regular light goose season in those affected States. Under the 

assumptions stated above, we expect to harvest an additional 618,400 

MCLG through the implementation of this proposed action (authorize 

electronic callers, unplugged shotguns, and additional days to 

harvest). Therefore, we project a total harvest of 1.25 million MCLG in 

the first year of implementation of this action. Because we expect 

regular-season harvest to increase annually, the total projected 

harvest will also increase annually. We expect to harvest a total of 

1.9 million MCLG in the second year of implementation and 2.6 million 

in the third year of implementation. These estimates include regular-

season harvest of MCLG.

    Batt (1997) estimated that the MCLG population should be reduced by 

50% by 2005. That would suggest a reduction in the MCLG December index 

from approximately 3.2 million birds to approximately 1.6 million 

birds. Central and Mississippi Flyway Council management thresholds for 

MCP lesser snow geese (not including WCFP lesser snow or Ross' geese) 

rests between 1.0 and 1.5 million birds, based on the December index. 

Therefore, our MCLG population reduction goal closely parallels those 

established by Flyway Councils and the scientific community. As 

mentioned previously, a December index of 1.6 million would translate 

to a minimum estimate of 2.56 million breeding MCLG in spring. We will 

carefully analyze and assess the MCLG reduction on an annual basis, 

using the December index and other surveys, to ensure that the 

populations are not over-harvested.

    We expect an increase in MCLG harvest to facilitate other efforts, 

such as habitat management on the wintering grounds and increased 

harvest by Canadian aboriginals. Decreased MCLG numbers will also 

relieve pressures on the breeding grounds. There is no evidence to 

suggest that the implementation of this action will result in an over-

harvest of MCLG. Once the December index is reduced to approximately 

1.6 million birds we will revoke this action and the methods we 

authorized. It is improbable that the implementation of this action 

will threaten the long-term status of MCLG populations, because we will 

monitor the MCLG populations and act accordingly if it is threatened by 

modifying or revoking the action.

Other Species

    We expect an increase in harvest, and subsequently a decrease in 

MCLG numbers, to relieve pressures on other migratory bird populations 

that utilize MCLG breeding and wintering grounds and other areas along 

the migration routes. This decrease should reduce the possibility that 

other species will be forced to seek habitat elsewhere or abandon 

unsuitable degraded habitat altogether, which could potentially result 

in decreased reproductive success of affected populations. We expect a 

significant decrease in MCLG populations to contribute to increased 

reproductive success of adversely impacted populations. Further, we 

expect that by decreasing the numbers of MCLG on wintering and 

migration stopover areas, the risk of transmitting avian cholera to 

other species will be reduced which will reduce the threat of a 

widespread avian cholera outbreak.


    Any migratory bird hunting or conservation order action has 

economic consequences. Continued inaction is likely to result in 

ecosystem failure of the Hudson Bay Lowlands salt-marsh ecosystem and 

potentially other ecosystems as MCLG populations expand and exploit new 

habitats. Without more effective population control measures to curb 

the populations, the populations of MCLG are expected to continue 

increasing and become more and more unstable as suitable breeding 

habitat diminishes. As population densities increase, the incidence of 

avian cholera among MCLG and other species is likely to increase 

throughout the Flyways, particularly at migration stopover sites. 

Losses of other species such as pintails, white-fronted geese, sandhill 

cranes, and whooping cranes, from avian cholera may be great. This may 

result in reduced hunting, birdwatching, and other opportunities.

[[Page 7522]]

It may also result in the season closures of adversely impacted 

migratory game birds such as white-fronted geese, sandhill cranes, and 

pintails. Goose damage to winter wheat and other agricultural crops 

will continue and worsen. Habitat damage in the Arctic will eventually 

trigger density-dependent regulation of the population which likely 

will result in increased gosling mortality and may cause the population 

to decline precipitously. However, it is not clear when such population 

regulation will occur and what habitat, if any, will remain to support 

the survivors. Such a decline may result in a population too low to 

permit any hunting, effectively closing MCLG hunting seasons. The 

length of the closures will largely depend on the recovery rate of the 

breeding habitat, which likely will take decades. Although the overall 

impact of closures of light-goose seasons in the Central and 

Mississippi Flyways that could result from continued degradation of the 

breeding habitat is small on a national scale, it would be concentrated 

where large flocks of geese stage and winter. Because people that 

provide services to hunters tend to be those with low incomes, the 

impact of a closure would fall disproportionately on low income groups 

near goose concentrations. We expect this action to reduce the risk of 

light-goose season closures in the Central and Mississippi Flyways and 

avoid a $70 million loss in output and reduce the possibility of 

increased agricultural loss. We expect special MCLG population control 

efforts to create additional take opportunities which is expected to 

add $18 million in output to local economies.

Public Comments Received

    The November 9, 1998, proposed rule published in the Federal 

Register (63 FR 60278) invited public comments from interested parties. 

The closing date for receipt of all comments was January 8, 1999, which 

was subsequently extended to January 15, 1999 (64 FR 822). During the 

comment period, we received 615 comments consisting of 468 from private 

citizens, 21 from State wildlife agencies, 2 from Flyway Councils, 27 

from private organizations, 10 from Native organizations, 65 from 

individuals that signed a petition, and 22 from private organizations 

that signed a petition. Comments generally were dichotomized by two 

points of view.

    To summarize, 361 comments were supportive of our intent to 

implement a conservation order to reduce the MCLG population. Comments 

in support of such action were received from 268 private citizens, 21 

State wildlife agencies, 2 Flyway Councils, 12 private organizations, 1 

Native organization, and 57 from people who signed a petition. These 

commenters agreed that there was a problem and that the resolution 

should entail reduction by lethal means and supported the use of 

additional methods to increase take of MCLG. Several State wildlife 

agencies and both Flyway Councils suggested that the requirement to 

have all other migratory bird hunting seasons closed in order to 

implement changes in regulations to address light goose population 

control is overly restrictive. They suggested that only other waterfowl 

seasons be closed in order to implement changes in light goose 

regulations. Furthermore, several of these commenters suggested that 

the Service should implement existing dove baiting regulations for the 

proposed conservation order rather than the more restrictive waterfowl 

baiting regulations. A private citizen voiced opposition to the closure 

of falconry seasons during implementation of new light goose regulation 


    A State wildlife agency requested clarification on whether the 

requirement to close all other migratory bird seasons pertained to 

zones within a State, or the entire State, and also whether the 

regulation changes could be implemented prior to March 11. Several 

State wildlife agencies questioned why other Mississippi Flyway States 

(i.e. MI, OH, WI, IN, KY, and TN) were not included in the list of 

those eligible to implement alternative regulatory strategies aimed at 

MCLG. Some State wildlife agencies urged that the Service not wait a 

full five years before the proposed population reduction strategies are 

evaluated and other management options are considered. A State wildlife 

agency commented that the requirement to close Bosque del Apache NWR 

during the period of implementation of light goose regulations was 

inappropriate and that existing hunt management plans will avert 

potential impacts to whooping cranes.

    Several private organizations and a Native organization expressed 

support of the findings of the international panel of scientists and 

waterfowl managers that documented (Batt 1997) habitat degradations 

caused by overabundant light goose and recommended actions to reduce 

populations. However, the organizations urged monitoring and evaluation 

of management actions and that such actions should be used only until 

populations are sufficiently reduced. A private organization that fully 

supported the proposed actions expressed concern about differing views 

in the academic and management community about the magnitude of harvest 

that is necessary to effect the desired population reduction.

    Conversely, 254 comments received were in opposition to the 

Service's intent to reduce MCLG populations by use of lethal means 

either because they believe it is not legally or scientifically 

justified to reduce the populations, or attempts to do so would be 

inhumane. Comments in opposition to such action were received from 200 

private citizens, 15 private organizations, 9 Native organizations, 8 

individuals that signed a petition, and 22 private organizations that 

signed a petition.

    Many commenters stated that grazing by geese may be changing the 

vegetation communities on their breeding grounds but they ``cannot 

devastate an ecosystem of which they are a part''. Furthermore, they 

felt that if there are too many geese for their habitats to support, 

the geese will either nest in other areas or fail to successfully raise 

young. A private individual commented that the habitat destruction 

occurring in the arctic may be due to pollution and increased salinity 

resulting from oil drilling.

    Several private organizations commented that the draft 

Environmental Assessment and the Proposed Rule fail to provide detailed 

estimates of the extent of grazing damage caused by MCLG. They further 

stated that we have not adequately addressed the relationship between 

isostatic uplift (raising of land due to the removal of pressure once 

exerted by glaciers) and vegetative succession, or the agricultural 

practices that have contributed to expansion of MCLG populations. In 

addition they criticized the lack of reliable current breeding 

population estimates of MCLG and our inability to demonstrate that 

current populations are higher than those ever experienced in the past. 

Furthermore, they questioned how killing millions of snow geese in the 

mid-western U.S. could remedy alleged damage to habitats at specific 

sites in the Canadian arctic. Finally, they protested that Native 

groups in Canada that would be directly impacted by the proposals were 

not consulted in the development of management actions. Comments 

provided by several Native organizations indicated that they were not 

consulted and they oppose the management action.

    A private organization recommended nest destruction, egging, and 

hazing of geese from areas that have sustained habitat changes as 

alternatives to the proposed actions. Furthermore, they stated that the 

use of lethal control, if it

[[Page 7523]]

is justified at all, must be conducted at specific sites where damage 

is occurring to be effective. Finally, they advocated that the Service 

implement ecosystem management to address the MCLG issue. Their view of 

ecosystem management assumes that the component species of an ecosystem 

determine their own distribution and abundance, consistent with the age 

and condition of their habits, thus requiring a more ``hands-off rather 

than a direct, interventionist, approach by managers.''

    Many private individuals and several private organizations 

commented that an Environmental Assessment was insufficient to comply 

with NEPA requirements, and that a full Environmental Impact Statement 

should be prepared before action is taken to address this problem. A 

private organization commented that the Service will be violating the 

1916 Convention Between the United States and Great Britain for the 

Protection of Migratory Birds if take of MCLG beyond March 10 is 

allowed. They believed that a conservation order to be implemented 

beyond March 10 will constitute an illegal hunting season on a 

protected species.

    Service response: We have conducted an Environmental Assessment of 

alternative regulatory strategies to reduce MCLG populations. Based on 

review and evaluation of the information contained in the assessment, 

we have determined that the proposed action to amend 50 CFR Part 21 to 

establish a conservation order for the reduction of MCLG populations is 

not a major Federal action that would significantly affect the quality 

of the human environment within the meaning of section 102(2)(c) of the 

National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. Accordingly, we made a 

Finding of No Significant Impact on this action. Therefore, preparation 

of an Environmental Impact Statement is not required. The EA and 

Finding of No Significant Impact are available to the public at the 

location indicated under the ADDRESSES caption.

    With regard to violation of the 1916 Convention, regulations 

allowing the take of migratory birds are authorized by the Migratory 

Bird Treaty Act (Act) (16 U.S.C. Secs. 703-712), which implements the 

four bilateral migratory bird treaties the United States entered into 

with Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Russia. Section 3 of the Act authorizes 

and directs the Secretary of the Interior to allow hunting, taking, 

etc. of migratory birds subject to the provisions of, and in order to 

carry out the purposes of, the four migratory bird treaties. The 

Convention with Great Britain establishes a ``closed'' season on 

hunting migratory game birds between March 10 and September 1. However, 

Section VII of the U.S.-Canada Migratory Bird Treaty authorizes 

permitting the take, kill, etc. of migratory birds that, under 

extraordinary conditions, become seriously injurious to agricultural or 

other interests. We are exercising this authority to carry out a 

necessary management action. Although ``hunters'' will be utilized in 

this effort, this is not intended as an open season or extension of a 

season. This is a management effort that is being carried out in 

partnership with State/Tribal wildlife agencies under strict monitoring 

and control requirements contained in the order. The information 

available to us as discussed in SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION, and in the 

Environmental Assessment accompanying this action, demonstrates that 

the extraordinary population levels are causing serious injury to the 

breeding habitat of light geese and other migratory birds, and the 

habitat of other wildlife species. Therefore, we believe that 

implementation of this conservation order is in accordance with and 

compatible with the terms of the Convention.

    We are unaware of any evidence indicating that the severe habitat 

damage occurring in MCLG breeding areas is the result of oil drilling 

activities. The feeding behavior of MCLG causes the removal of 

vegetation from sites and sets in motion a series of events that causes 

soil salinity to increase. With regard to the ability of MCLG to 

devastate an ecosystem of which they are a part, we point to studies 

summarized by Abraham and Jefferies (1997) indicating that goose 

feeding activities reduce the thickness of the vegetation mat that 

insulates the underlying marine sediments from the air. Evaporation 

rates from the surface sediments increase and inorganic salts from the 

marine clay produce high salt concentrations that reduce growth of 

preferred forage plants. This together with continued intensive grazing 

by geese maintains open areas and high salt concentration and results 

in a positive feedback producing increased destruction of salt-marsh 

areas and desertification of the landscape. This is illustrated by 

fenced exclosure plots on impacted areas that prevent geese from 

grazing in plots. Both the exclosures and the areas in their immediate 

vicinity are experiencing isostatic uplift (raising of land as a result 

of glacial retreat) and yet the rate of plant species turnover in the 

two areas is markedly different, driven by excessive goose foraging. 

Several commenters stated that recolonization of mud flats by plants 

will occur naturally. However, they do not elaborate on the amount of 

time this process will require. Exclosure experiments indicate that it 

may take at least 15 years for vegetation stands to begin to develop, 

which would require total absence of goose foraging. This length of 

time is beyond the life expectancy of a single age cohort of lesser 

snow geese. Hence, the effects on the habitat outlive the geese.

    With regard to the assertion that if there are too many geese for 

their habitats to support, the geese will nest in other areas or fail 

to raise young, we generally concur. We note that geese have the 

ability to escape the effects of high population densities by their 

ability to disperse from breeding colonies. However, there are signs 

that habitat in the areas geese are dispersing to are also being 

degraded, forcing the birds to disperse even further. Thus, birds 

invade previously undisturbed habitats and consume plant biomass to the 

point where it is no longer advantageous to remain in those areas, and 

then they disperse. The ability to disperse to and subsequently degrade 

new habitats is of much concern to wildlife managers and is the reason 

we feel that MCLG populations need to be controlled. With regard to 

documentation of the total acreage of damage caused by MCLG, we note 

that quantification of habitat degradation by geese in the entire 

arctic and sub-arctic region is made difficult by logistical 

constraints. However, we point to the numerous habitat studies that 

document habitat damage, which are summarized in the report by Batt 

(1997). This information has been collected during the past 25+ years 

by numerous scientists of varying disciplines. Most claims of little or 

no damage to habitats have been based solely on a report by Thomas and 

MacKay (1998), which was the result of a field trip to a limited number 

of sites on the west coast of Hudson Bay that lasted less than 72 

hours. We do not believe this cursory examination of habitats in this 

region is a valid method of documenting habitat degradation due to MCLG 


    Concerning the relationship between isostatic uplift and plant 

succession, we acknowledge the impact that this geologic process has on 

plant communities. However, the time frame in which the process occurs 

is much slower than the time frame in which geese can impact habitats. 

Therefore, we do not believe that isostatic uplift will create new 

habitat quickly enough to counteract damage created by geese.

[[Page 7524]]

    With regard to the relationship between agricultural practices and 

MCLG populations, we have previously stated that habitat management 

approaches to population control should be pursued in conjunction with 

alternative regulatory strategies (63 FR 60281). Inclusion of habitat 

management strategies is beyond the scope of our rulemaking authority. 

This may create the false impression to some observers that we are 

considering only lethal means to control MCLG populations. In fact, we 

are working with our partners to develop various non-regulatory action 

plans that will include land use recommendations for the Northern 

Prairie, Midwest, and Gulf Coast regions of the U.S. to address habitat 

management approaches to controlling overabundant MCLG populations 

(Bisbee 1998). We are also pursuing changing habitat management 

practices on our own lands. We believe that a comprehensive, long-term 

strategy that involves both lethal methods and habitat management is a 

sound approach to addressing the MCLG issue.

    Concerning the question of how killing MCLG in the U.S. will remedy 

damage to habitats in specific breeding colonies in the Canadian 

arctic, we point out that MCLG migrate and winter in large 

concentrations almost exclusively in the Central and Mississippi 

Flyways. Therefore, these regulatory strategies aimed at taking MCLG in 

this portion of the U.S. will reduce the number of birds returning to 

breeding areas that are experiencing habitat degradation. It will also 

reduce the number of birds that are able to disperse to and degrade 

other breeding habitats. We believe this is a cost-effective and 

efficient alternative to selective culling of birds at breeding 

colonies, which would entail massive disposal efforts and waste of 

birds at enormous cost. Similarly, we believe that alternative 

regulatory strategies will be more cost-effective and efficient control 

methods than proposals to destroy nest, harvest eggs, and haze geese 

from breeding colonies.

    With regard to our ability to estimate the current size of the 

breeding population of MCLG, we point out that the lack of definitive 

continental breeding population estimates is due to the enormous 

logistical barriers to designing a comprehensive survey of the entire 

arctic and sub-arctic region. Consequently, we have relied on surveys 

conducted on wintering areas in December to provide an index to the 

breeding population. It is clear that many people are confused about 

the relationship between the December index and the breeding population 

size. The December survey results in a count of MCLG on portions of its 

wintering range and does not represent a total population count, nor is 

it intended to be such. However, we believe that the December index 

tracks the true population size and allows managers to determine when 

the MCLG population is increasing, decreasing, or is stable. In fact, 

we have used the December index in the development of annual snow goose 

hunting regulations since its inception in 1969. Therefore, we have 

chosen to use the December index to determine the status of the MCLG 

population. In the proposed rule (63 FR 60278) we made an incorrect 

contextual reference to the Central and Mississippi Flyway Council 

(1982) management guideline of 800,000 to 1.2 million birds because 

this guideline was based on snow goose population estimates for the 

breeding grounds, rather than on wintering ground indices. We will 

continue to base our objectives on winter indices. In order to achieve 

a 50% reduction in the MCLG population, this would entail achieving a 

reduction in the December index from approximately 3.2 million to 1.6 

million birds. In 1991, the Mississippi and Central Flyway Councils 

passed resolutions to adopt management goals for MCLG of 1 to 1.5 

million birds, based on the December index. Therefore, our objective is 

in close agreement with management goals previously stated by the 

Flyway Councils. Beginning in January 1999, the Central and Mississippi 

Flyway Councils designated a January survey of wintering MCLG to be the 

official index to the population, which we will use to monitor the 

population. This change should have negligible effect on the winter 

index and subsequent management objectives.

    With regard to debate about the magnitude of harvest that is 

necessary to bring about the desired population reduction, we point out 

that the debate is centered around the annual harvest that is required 

to achieve the reduction by the year 2005. Rockwell et al. (1997) 

recommend a 2-3 fold increase in annual harvest to achieve the desired 

population reduction. The authors stated that, ``different assumptions 

will lead to somewhat different values under this type of strategy * * 

* (Rockwell et al. 1997:99). Subsequently, Cooke et al. (unpublished 

report) estimated that annual harvest would need to be increased by a 

factor of anywhere from 3.5 to 6.7 to reduce the MCLG population. We 

note the near overlap in the ranges of recommended increases in annual 

harvest contained in the two reports. At the present, we believe that 

pursuing a three-fold increase in annual harvest represents a 

responsible approach to MCLG population reduction. Implementation of 

new regulatory strategies will allow managers to measure the actual 

effects of such strategies on the MCLG population. If this harvest 

level is subsequently deemed inadequate to achieve the population-

reduction goal, this strategy will be re-evaluated.

    With regard to the relationship between current MCLG population 

levels and those experienced in the past, we point out the problems 

with comparisons of anecdotal accounts of MCLG population levels with 

population indices derived from modern aerial surveys. We suggest that 

debates about anecdotal accounts of former MCLG abundance will not be 

fruitful. What is known, is that current MCLG population indices 

derived from standardized aerial surveys are higher than ever 

previously recorded. Therefore, we believe that alternative regulatory 

strategies to address overabundant MCLG and their impacts on habitat 

are appropriate and urgently needed.

    Concerning consultation with Native groups that may be affected by 

alternative regulatory strategies implemented in the U.S., we point out 

that the U.S. has met the legal obligation to consult with the 

government of Canada. In turn, various territorial, provincial and 

federal governments in Canada have consulted with aboriginal groups 

through various forums, and through the distribution of reports and 

proposals for Canadian hunting seasons. These consultations are and 

will continue to be ongoing. Because the locations of many of the 

largest light goose breeding colonies are north of 60 degrees north 

latitude, much of the direct consultation to date has been with people 

in those areas. We have also been informed that a number of Inuit 

groups such as the Arviat Hunters and Trappers Organization, and the 

Aiviq Hunters and Trappers Association in Cape Dorset have already 

participated in pilot programs to increase their harvest of light 

geese. The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board has had the light goose 

overabundance issue as a standing item for some time. Other northern 

wildlife management boards, including the Inuvialuit which participated 

in a stakeholder's committee, have been informed of the light goose 

issue. In light of this information, we feel claims that Native groups 

have not been consulted are unfounded.

    We disagree with the view that an ecosystem approach to managing

[[Page 7525]]

overabundant MCLG requires a ``hands off'' rather than a direct 

interventionist approach by managers. In fact, we believe that 

implementation of alternative regulatory strategies to address this 

problem is the epitome of ecosystem management. The Service's goal of 

its ecosystem approach is the effective conservation of natural 

biological diversity through perpetuation of dynamic, healthy 

ecosystems (USFWS 1995). Others have defined ecosystem management as 

``the integration of ecologic, economic, and social principles to 

manage biological and physical systems in a manner that safeguards the 

ecological sustainability, natural diversity, and productivity of the 

landscape'' (Wood 1994). We believe that if MCLG populations are not 

immediately controlled by direct methods, that biological diversity on 

breeding areas will decline, productivity of the landscape will be 

severely reduced, and the health of the ecosystem will be compromised 

to the extent that it will take many decades to recover, if ever.

    With regard to the comment that requiring closure of all other 

migratory bird seasons is overly restrictive, we agree. Our intent is 

to minimize the impacts of regulatory strategies on non-target species, 

and we believe that limiting the required closure to all waterfowl and 

crane hunting seasons, excluding falconry, will not increase the 

potential impacts on non-target species. These closures can be 

undertaken on a zone basis within a state. Such strategies could be 

implemented prior to March 11 in a given year, as long as the above 

requirement is met. With regards to the eligibility of the States of 

MI, OH, WI, IN, KY, and TN to implement alternative regulatory 

strategies, we agree that these States harvest light geese during 

normal hunting seasons, and thus would have the potential to harvest 

MCLG using alternative regulatory strategies. For example, 20,000 to 

60,000 snow geese annually winter in western Kentucky. Therefore, we 

are including all Mississippi Flyway and Central Flyway States as being 

eligible for implementation of such strategies.

    With regards to baiting regulations, we prefer to utilize current 

regulations that pertain to waterfowl. Implementation of dove baiting 

regulations in a waterfowl management strategy may create confusion 

among hunters. The larger question of the use of baiting to increase 

harvest of MCLG may need to be re-visited, once we have experience with 

the alternative regulations options currently being implemented. We 

note that baiting regulations for all migratory birds are currently 

under review and a decision with regards to the use of baiting to 

control MCLG should be postponed until the review is completed.

    Concerning the requirement to close several crane wintering and 

migration areas to implementation of MCLG regulatory strategies, we 

feel that this requirement will help ensure protection of whooping 

cranes. We believe a conservative approach to implementing new MCLG 

strategies is warranted, at least initially. Once we gain experience in 

dealing with these new strategies, and if a determination is made that 

such closures are unnecessary, they can be discontinued at that time.

    With regard to monitoring programs that are needed to evaluate MCLG 

control measures and the status of their population, we note that the 

Arctic Goose Joint Venture has developed a draft science needs document 

that outlines various population and habitat monitoring programs. 

Included in this document are banded sample sizes that are needed to 

detect average annual changes in survival rates of MCLG. The document 

outlines banding goals for various breeding colonies. Breeding 

population surveys that will be utilized include photo inventories and 

helicopter surveys of selected breeding colonies. Annual indices to 

MCLG population size will continue to be derived from winter surveys 

conducted in the U.S. Harvest estimates for normal light goose hunting 

seasons will continue to be derived through existing federal harvest 

surveys. Estimates of harvest during the conservation order will be 

obtained from individual State wildlife agencies. We will accomplish 

habitat monitoring through satellite imagery and continuation of on the 

ground sampling associated with current research projects.

    We agree that we should not to wait until five years have elapsed 

before an evaluation of the MCLG conservation order is completed and 

other alternatives are considered. Annual monitoring will indicate if 

the conservation order is effective in reducing the MCLG population. We 

will consider additional population-reduction strategies if the 

conservation order is deemed ineffective. We note that non-lethal 

management strategies to control MCLG populations recently have been 

completed or are under development (e.g. Bisbee 1998). We look forward 

to working with all stakeholders in the development of long-term 

strategies to deal effectively with overabundant MCLG.

References Cited

Abraham, K. F., R. L. Jefferies, R. F. Rockwell, and C. D. MacInnes. 

1996. Why are there so many white geese in North America? 7th 

International Waterfowl Symposium, Memphis, TN.

Abraham, K. F., and R. L. Jefferies. 1997. High goose populations: 

causes, impacts and implications. Pages 7-72 in B. D. J. Batt, ed. 

Arctic Ecosystems in Peril: Report of the Arctic Goose Habitat 

Working Group. Arctic Goose Joint Venture Special Publication. U. S. 

Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C. and Canadian Wildlife 

Service, Ottawa, Ontario. 120 pp.

Alisauskas, R., C. D. Ankney, and E. E. Klaas. 1988. Winter diets 

and nutrition of mid-continental lesser snow geese. J. Wildl. 

Manage. 52:403-414.

Alisauskas, R., S.M. Slattery, D.K. Kellett, D.S. Stern, and K.D. 

Warner. 1998. Spatial and temporal dynamics of Ross's and snow goose 

colonies in Queen Maud Gulf Bird Sanctuary, 1966-1998. Canadian 

Wildlife Service, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. 21pp.

Ankney, C. D. and C. D. MacInnes. 1978. Nutrient reserves and 

reproductive performance of female lesser snow geese. Auk 95:459-


Batt, B. D. J., editor. 1997. Arctic ecosystems in peril: report of 

the Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group. Arctic Goose Joint Venture 

Special Publication. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, 

D.C. and Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa, Ontario.

Bisbee, R. 1998. Gulf states action plan for mid-continent snow 

geese: A specific action plan focused on public land management for 

the years 1998, 1999, and 2000. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 

Washington, D.C.

Boyd, H., G. E. J. Smith and F. G. Cooch. 1982. The lesser snow 

goose of the eastern Canadian Arctic: their status during 1964-1979 

and their management from 1982-1990. Canadian Wildlife Service 

Occasional Paper No. 46. 21 pp.

Rockwell, R. F., E. Cooch, and S. Brault. 1997a. Dynamics of the 

Mid-continent population of lesser snow geese: projected impacts of 

reductions in survival and fertility on population growth rates. 

Pages 73-100 in B. D. J. Batt, ed. Arctic Ecosystems in Peril: 

Report of the Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group. Arctic Goose Joint 

Venture Special Publication. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 

Washington, D.C. and Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa, Ontario. 120 


Rockwell, R. F., D. Pollack, K. F. Abraham, P. M. Kotanen, and R. L. 

Jefferies. 1997b. Are there declines in bird species using La 

Perouse Bay? The Hudson Bay Project status report for Ducks 

Unlimited, Inc. Ryder, J. P. 1969. Nesting colonies of Ross' goose. 


Rockwell, R. F. 1998. Personal Communication. American Museum of 

Natural History. New York, NY.

[[Page 7526]]

Sparrowe, R. 1998. Report of the Stakeholder's Committee on Arctic 

Nesting Geese. Rollin Sparrowe, Chair. Wildlife Management 

Institute, Washington, D.C.

U.S. Department of the Interior, Environment Canada, and Secretaria 

De Desarrollo Social. 1998. 1998 update to the North American 

Waterfowl Management Plan--fulfilling the legacy: expanding the 

vision. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C.

USFWS. 1995. An ecosystem approach to fish and wildlife 

conservation. Concept Document. Washington, D.C. 21 pp.

USFWS. 1997a. Waterfowl population status, 1997. Office of Migratory 

Bird Management, Arlington, VA. 32 pp.

USFWS. 1997b. Harvest and population survey data book, Central 

Flyway, compiled by D.E. Sharp. Office of Migratory Bird Management, 

Denver, CO. 123 pp.

USFWS. 1998a. Mid-continent Lesser Snow Goose Workshops: Central and 

Mississippi Flyways, Fall 1997. Office of Migratory Bird Management 

and Division of Refuges, Arlington, VA.

USFWS. 1998b. Waterfowl populations status, 1998. Department of the 

Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arlington, VA. 31 pp.

USFWS. 1998c. Waterfowl Population Status, 1998. Department of the 

Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Arlington, VA.

Yancey, R., M. Smith, H. Miller, and L. Jahn. 1958. Waterfowl 

distribution and migration report (Mississippi Flyway States). 

Proceedings 11th Annual Southeastern Association of Game and Fish 

Commissioners: 105-115.

Effective Date

    Under the APA (5 U.S.C. 553(d)) we waive the 30-day period before 

the rule becomes effective and find that ``good cause'' exists, within 

the terms of 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3) of the APA, and this rule will, 

therefore, take effect immediately upon publication. This rule relieves 

a restriction and, in addition, it is not in the public interest to 

delay the effective date of this rule. During the public comment period 

we received 615 comments consisting of 468 from private citizens, 21 

from State wildlife agencies, 2 from Flyway Councils, 27 from private 

organizations, 10 from Native organizations, 65 from individuals that 

signed a petition, and 22 from private organizations that signed a 

petition. It is in the best interest of migratory birds and their 

habitats to implement a conservation order to reduce the number of 

MCLG. It is in the best interest of the hunting public to provide 

alternative regulatory options to address the problem of overabundant 

MCLG that may affect other migratory bird populations and hunting 


NEPA Considerations

    In compliance with the requirements of section 102(2)(C) of the 

National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4332(C)), and the 

Council on Environmental Quality's regulation for implementing NEPA (40 

CFR 1500-1508), we prepared an Environmental Assessment in January 

1999. This EA is available to the public at the location indicated 

under the ADDRESSES caption. Based on review and evaluation of the 

information in the EA, we determined that amending 50 CFR Part 21 to 

establish a conservation order for the reduction of MCLG populations 

would not be a major Federal action that would significantly affect the 

quality of the human environment. This Environmental Assessment 

considers short-term options for addressing the ever-increasing MCLG 

population. In 2000, we will initiate the preparation of an 

Environmental Impact Statement to consider the effects on the human 

environment of a range of long-term resolutions for the MCLG 

population. Completion of the EIS by summer 2002 will afford the 

Service the opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the current 

preferred alternative. It will also allow for a more detailed 

evaluation of options to correspond with the results of the assessment 

and ongoing MCLG issues.

Endangered Species Act Consideration

    Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), as amended (16 

U.S.C. 1531-1543; 87 Stat. 884) provides that `` Each Federal agency 

shall, in consultation with the Secretary, insure that any action 

authorized, funded, or carried out * * * is not likely to jeopardize 

the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species or 

result in the destruction or adverse modification of (critical) habitat 

* * * '' We have completed a Section 7 consultation under the ESA for 

this rule and determined that establishment of a conservation order for 

the reduction of MCLG populations is not likely to affect any 

threatened, endangered, proposed or candidate species. The result of 

our consultation under Section 7 of the ESA is available to the public 

at the location indicated under the ADDRESSES caption.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

    The economic impacts of this rulemaking will fall 

disproportionately on small businesses because of the structure of the 

waterfowl hunting related industries. The regulation benefits small 

businesses by avoiding ecosystem failure to an ecosystem that produces 

migratory bird resources important to American citizens. The Regulatory 

Flexibility Act of 1980 (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.) requires the preparation 

of flexibility analyses for rules that will have a significant effect 

on a substantial number of small entities. Data are not available to 

estimate the number of small entities affected, but it is unlikely to 

be a substantial number on a national scale. We expect this action to 

reduce the risk of light-goose season closures in the Central and 

Mississippi Flyways subsequently avoiding a $70 million loss in output 

and reducing the possibility of increased agricultural loss. We expect 

special MCLG population control efforts to create additional take 

opportunities which is expected to add $18 million in output to local 

economies. We have determined that a Regulatory Flexibility Act 

Analysis is not required.

Executive Order 12866

    This rule was not subject to review by the Office of Management and 

Budget under E.O. 12866. E.O. 12866 requires each agency to write 

regulations that are easy to understand. The Service invites comments 

on how to make this rule easier to understand, including answers to 

questions such as the following: (1) Are the requirements in the rule 

clearly stated? (2) Does the rule contain technical language or jargon 

that interferes with its clarity? (3) Does the format of the rule 

(grouping and order of sections, use of headings, paragraphing, etc.) 

aid or reduce its clarity? (4) Would the rule be easier to understand 

if it were divided into more (but shorter) sections? (5) Is the 

description of the rule in the ``Supplementary Information'' section of 

the preamble helpful in understanding the rule? What else could the 

Service do to make the rule easier to understand?

Congressional Review

    This is not a major rule under the Small Business Regulatory 

Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 (5 U.S.C. 801-808).

Paperwork Reduction Act and Information Collection

    We examined these regulations under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 

1995 (44 U.S.C. 3507(d). Under the Act, information collections must be 

approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Agencies may not 

conduct or sponsor, and a person is not required to respond to a 

collection of information unless it displays a currently valid OMB 

control number. We estimate that State/Tribal governments that 

participate in the program will expend an average of 30 hours annually 

to fulfill the information

[[Page 7527]]

collection requirements. Any suggestions on how to reduce this burden 

should be sent to the Information Collection Clearance Officer, U.S. 

Fish and Wildlife Service, ms 222-ARLSQ, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington, 

DC 20204. We will use the recordkeeping and reporting requirements 

imposed under regulations established in 50 CFR Part 21, Subpart E to 

administer this program, particularly in the assessment of impacts 

alternative regulatory strategies may have on MCLG and other migratory 

bird populations. We will require the information collected to 

authorize State and Tribal governments responsible for migratory bird 

management to take MCLG within our guidelines. Specifically, OMB has 

approved the information collection requirements of this action and 

assigned clearance number 1018-0103 (expires 01/31/2002).

Unfunded Mandates

    We have determined and certify, in compliance with the requirements 

of the Unfunded Mandates Act (2 U.S.C. 1502 et seq.), that this 

rulemaking will not impose a cost of $100 million or more in any given 

year on local or State government or private entities. This rule will 

not ``significantly or uniquely'' affect small governments. No 

governments below the State level will be affected by this rule. A 

Small Government Agency Plan is not required. This rule will not 

produce a Federal mandate of $100 million or greater in any year, i.e., 

it is not a ``significant regulatory action'' under Unfunded Mandates.

Civil Justice Reform--Executive Order 12988

    The Department, in promulgating this rule, has determined that 

these regulations meet the applicable standards provided in Sections 

3(a) and 3(b)(2) of Executive Order 12988. This rule has been reviewed 

by the Office of the Solicitor. Specifically, this rule has been 

reviewed to eliminate errors and ambiguity, has been written to 

minimize litigation, provides a clear legal standard for affected 

conduct, and specifies in clear language the effect on existing Federal 

law or regulation. We do not anticipate that this rule will require any 

additional involvement of the justice system beyond enforcement of 

provisions of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 that have already 

been implemented through previous rulemakings.

Takings Implication Assessment

    In accordance with Executive Order 12630, this rule, authorized by 

the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, does not have significant takings 

implications and does not affect any constitutionally protected 

property rights. The rule will not result in the physical occupancy of 

property, the physical invasion of property, or the regulatory taking 

of any property. In fact, the rule allows hunters to exercise 

privileges that would be otherwise unavailable; and, therefore, reduce 

restrictions on the use of private and public property.

Federalism Effects

    Due to the migratory nature of certain species of birds, the 

Federal government has been given responsibility over these species by 

the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. These rules do not have a substantial 

direct effect on fiscal capacity, change the roles or responsibilities 

of Federal or State governments, or intrude on State policy or 

administration. Therefore, in accordance with Executive Order 12612, 

these regulations do not have significant federalism effects and do not 

have sufficient federalism implications to warrant the preparation of a 

Federalism Assessment.

Government-to-Government Relationship with Tribes

    In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994, 

``Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal 

Governments'' (59 FR 22951) and 512 DM 2, we have evaluated possible 

effects on Federally recognized Indian Tribes and have determined that 

there are no effects.


    The primary author of this final rule is James R. Kelley, Jr., 

Office of Migratory Bird Management.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Parts 20 and 21

    Exports, Hunting, Imports, Reporting and recordkeeping 

requirements, Transportation, Wildlife.

    For the reasons stated in the preamble, we hereby amend parts 20 

and 21, of the subchapter B, chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal 

Regulations, as set forth below:


    The authority citation for part 20 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 703-712; and 16 U.S.C 742a-j.

Sec. 20.22  [Amended]

    2. In Sec. 20.22, the phrase ``except as provided in part 21'' is 

added following the word ``season''.


    1. The authority citation for part 21 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: Pub. L. 95-616, 92 Stat. 3112 (16 U.S.C. 712(2)).

    2. Subpart E, consisting of Sec. 21.60, is added to read as 


Subpart E--Control of Overabundant Migratory Bird Populations

Sec. 21.60  Conservation Order for Mid-continent light geese.

    (a) Which waterfowl species are covered by this order? This 

conservation order addresses management of lesser snow (Anser c. 

caerulescens) and Ross' (Anser rossii) geese that breed, migrate, and 

winter in the mid-continent portion of North America, primarily in the 

Central and Mississippi Flyways (Mid-continent light geese).

    (b) In what areas can the conservation order be implemented? (1) 

The following States, or portions of States, that are contained within 

the boundaries of the Central and Mississippi Flyways: Alabama, 

Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, 

Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, 

Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, 

Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

    (2) Tribal lands within the geographic boundaries in paragraph 

(b)(1) of this section.

    (3) The following areas within the boundaries in paragraph (b)(1) 

of this section above are closed to the conservation order after 10 

March: Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge (CO); Bosque del Apache 

National Wildlife Refuge (NM); the area within 5 miles of the Platte 

River from Lexington, Nebraska to Grand Island, Nebraska; the following 

area in and around Aransas National Wildlife Refuge; those portions of 

Refugio, Calhoun, and Aransas counties that lie inside a line extending 

from 5 nautical miles offshore to and including Pelican Island, thence 

to Port O'Conner, thence northwest along State Highway 185 and 

southwest along State Highway 35 to Aransas Pass, thence southeast 

along State Highway 361 to Port Aransas, thence east along the Corpus 

Christi Channel, thence southeast along the Aransas Channel, extending 

to 5 nautical miles offshore; except that it is lawful to take Mid-

continent light geese after 10 March

[[Page 7528]]

within the Guadalupe WMA. If at any time evidence is presented that 

clearly demonstrates that there no longer exists a need to close the 

above areas, we will publish a proposal to remove the closures in the 

Federal Register.

    (c) What is required in order for State/Tribal governments to 

participate in the conservation order? Any State or Tribal government 

responsible for the management of wildlife and migratory birds may, 

without permit, kill or cause to be killed under its general 

supervision, mid-continent light geese under the following conditions:

    (1) Activities conducted under this section may not affect 

endangered or threatened species as designated under the Endangered 

Species Act.

    (2) Control activities must be conducted clearly as such and are 

intended to relieve pressures on migratory birds and habitat essential 

to migratory bird populations only and are not to be construed as 

opening, re-opening, or extending any open hunting season contrary to 

any regulations promulgated under section 3 of the Migratory Bird 

Treaty Act.

    (3) Control activities may be conducted only when all waterfowl and 

crane hunting seasons, excluding falconry, are closed.

    (4) Control measures employed through this section may be 

implemented only between the hours of one-half hour before sunrise to 

one-half hour after sunset.

    (5) Nothing in this section may limit or initiate management 

actions on Federal land without concurrence of the Federal Agency with 


    (6) States and Tribes must designate participants who must operate 

under the conditions of this section.

    (7) States and Tribes must inform participants of the requirements/

conditions of this section that apply.

    (8) States and Tribes must keep records of activities carried out 

under the authority of this section, including the number of mid-

continent light geese taken under this section, the methods by which 

they were taken, and the dates they were taken. The States and Tribes 

must submit an annual report summarizing activities conducted under 

this section on or before August 1 of each year, to the appropriate 

Assistant Regional Director--Refuges and Wildlife (see Sec. 2.2 of this 


    (d) What is required in order for individuals to participate in the 

conservation order? Individual participants in State or tribal programs 

covered by this section are required to comply with the following 


    (1) Nothing in this section authorizes the take of mid-continent 

light geese contrary to any State or Tribal laws or regulations; and 

none of the privileges granted under this section may be exercised 

unless persons acting under the authority of the conservation order 

possesses whatever permit or other authorization(s) as may be required 

for such activities by the State or Tribal government concerned.

    (2) Participants who take mid-continent light geese under this 

section may not sell or offer for sale those birds nor their plumage, 

but may possess, transport, and otherwise properly use them.

    (3) Participants acting under the authority of this section must 

permit at all reasonable times including during actual operations, any 

Federal or State game or deputy game agent, warden, protector, or other 

game law enforcement officer free and unrestricted access over the 

premises on which such operations have been or are being conducted; and 

must promptly furnish whatever information an officer requires 

concerning the operation.

    (4) Participants acting under the authority of this section may 

take mid-continent light geese by any method except those prohibited as 


    (i) With a trap, snare, net, rifle, pistol, swivel gun, shotgun 

larger than 10 gauge, punt gun, battery gun, machine gun, fish hook, 

poison, drug, explosive, or stupefying substance;

    (ii) From or by means, aid, or use of a sinkbox or any other type 

of low floating device, having a depression affording the person a 

means of concealment beneath the surface of the water;

    (iii) From or by means, aid, or use of any motor vehicle, motor-

driven land conveyance, or aircraft of any kind, except that 

paraplegics and persons missing one or both legs may take from any 

stationary motor vehicle or stationary motor-driven land conveyance;

    (iv) From or by means of any motorboat or other craft having a 

motor attached, or any sailboat, unless the motor has been completely 

shut off and the sails furled, and its progress therefrom has ceased. A 

craft under power may be used only to retrieve dead or crippled birds; 

however, the craft may not be used under power to shoot any crippled 


    (v) By the use or aid of live birds as decoys; although not limited 

to, it shall be a violation of this paragraph for any person to take 

Mid-continent light geese on an area where tame or captive live geese 

are present unless such birds are and have been for a period of 10 

consecutive days before the taking, confined within an enclosure that 

substantially reduces the audibility of their calls and totally 

conceals the birds from the sight of Mid-continent light geese;

    (vi) By means or aid of any motor-driven land, water, or air 

conveyance, or any sailboat used for the purpose of or resulting in the 

concentrating, driving, rallying, or stirring up of Mid-continent light 


    (vii) By the aid of baiting, or on or over any baited area. As used 

in this paragraph, ``baiting'' means the placing, exposing, depositing, 

distributing, or scattering of shelled, shucked, or unshucked corn, 

wheat or other grain, salt, or other feed so as to constitute for such 

birds a lure, attraction or enticement to, on, or over any areas where 

hunters are attempting to take them; and ``baited area'' means any area 

where shelled, shucked, or unshucked corn, wheat or other grain, salt, 

or other feed capable of luring, attracting, or enticing such birds is 

directly or indirectly placed, exposed, deposited, distributed, or 

scattered; and such area shall remain a baited area for 10 days 

following complete removal of all such corn, wheat or other grain, 

salt, or other feed. However, nothing in this paragraph prohibits the 

taking of Mid-continent light geese on or over standing crops, flooded 

standing crops (including aquatics), flooded harvested croplands, grain 

crops properly shucked on the field where grown, or grains found 

scattered solely as the result of normal agricultural planting or 

harvesting; or

    (viii) Participants may not possess shot (either in shotshells or 

as loose shot for muzzleloading) other than steel shot, or bismuth-tin, 

or other shots that are authorized in 50 CFR 20.21(j). Season 

limitations in that rule do not apply to participants acting under this 


    (e) Under what conditions would the conservation order be revoked? 

The Service will annually assess the overall impact and effectiveness 

of the conservation order to ensure compatibility with long-term 

conservation of this resource. If at any time evidence is presented 

that clearly demonstrates that there no longer exists a serious threat 

of injury to the area or areas involved, we will initiate action to 

revoke the conservation order.

    (f) Will information concerning the conservation order be 

collected? The information collection requirements of the conservation 

order have been approved by OMB and assigned clearance number 1018-

0103. Agencies may not conduct or sponsor, and a person is not required 

to respond to, a collection of information unless it displays a 

currently valid OMB control number. The recordkeeping and

[[Page 7529]]

reporting requirements imposed under regulations established in 50 CFR 

Part 21, Subpart E will be utilized to administer this program, 

particularly in the assessment of impacts alternative regulatory 

strategies may have on Mid-continent light geese and other migratory 

bird populations. The information collected will be required to 

authorize State and Tribal governments responsible for migratory bird 

management to take Mid-continent light geese within the guidelines 

provided by the Service.

    Dated: February 10, 1999.

Donald Barry,

Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.

[FR Doc. 99-3649 Filed 2-12-99; 8:45 am]