The skies over Midwestern states will be dotted white this fall by snow geese moving south for the winter. But many biologists have concluded that the birds are too prolific for their own good.


The goose population has skyrocketed over the past 30 years, up from 750,000 in 1969 to almost 3 million today. As they migrate from Northern Canada to Mexico, the birds have been eating out their habitat and jeopardizing their future.


A study by the Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group, a volunteer committee of biologists and representatives from conservation groups, found the snow goose population growing at 5 percent a year. The damage to the ecosystem in Canada mirrors that growth. The birds have picked clean the fragile breeding grounds at Canada's La Perouse Bay, a small inlet on Hudson Bay. If this keeps up, says North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologist Mike Johnson, "the population will likely crash sometime in the future."


Because the breeding grounds of snow geese won't be able to support the growing numbers, the working group recommends cutting the bird population in half. The most effective method, they say, is hunting. Bruce Batt, a member of the working group and a chief biologist with Ducks Unlimited, says, "We adopted a principle that birds must be respected. We don't want them destroyed or wasted and left in landfills."


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which sets hunting regulations, agreed, increasing bag limits to 10 snow geese per person, per day, up from five. The group is also proposing to expand the current 107-day hunting season to 365 days. The working group also suggests other changes: legalizing electronic bird-caller devices and allowing hunting in or around federal and state refuges. The group believes the birds' numbers can be reduced to sustainable levels within seven to 10 years.


For information, contact Bruce Batt at Ducks Unlimited, 901/758-3786, or biologist Mike Johnson at 701/758-3786. You can also find information on the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center's Web site: www.npsc.nbs.gov/resource/othrdata/snowprob/snowprob.htm.


*Sara Phillips