« Return to this article

for people who care about the West

Snow geese have become too plentiful

  Because snow geese have become too successful for their own good, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking for a wholesale hunt.

The conversion of pastures to fields of grain has provided a bountiful harvest for the birds, causing the population to soar over the last three decades. Now, say agency biologists, snow geese are devouring their delicate Canadian nesting ground, eating more than can regrow in the short arctic growing season, and harming the area for other birds and plants (HCN, 11/10/97).

Snow geese may trigger their own population crash - but only after the tundra is destroyed in Canada.

The agency estimates that the current population needs to be reduced from 4 million birds to a sustainable level of 1.5 million in the next few years.

Currently, snow geese may be hunted 107 days in a year, the maximum allowed under the Migratory Bird Treaties signed over 80 years ago by the United States, Canada and other nations.

But snow geese are notoriously hard to hunt, and so far, increasing the bag limits and hunting days has not lowered the population. Newly proposed management solutions would extend hunting in banned seasons between March 10 and September 1, call for greater hunting opportunities on wildlife refuges, and suggest that incentive programs be provided to hunters to increase the harvest. Inducements might include offering prizes or reducing the cost of hunting licenses.

In addition, the agency suggests liberalizing hunting methods for snow geese, perhaps allowing electronic calls and baiting.

Critics say some proposed changes conflict with fair and ethical hunting practices. Others worry that the snow goose might be devalued in the eyes of both hunters and the public, and that the public's viewing of wildlife on refuges could be disrupted. The changes could have impacts as yet unknown on other migratory bird populations.

The Fish and Wildlife Service responds that inaction will lead to hundreds of thousands of birds and other wildlife dying from starvation and disease.

A full report on the recommendations from the Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group can be obtained at http://www.fws.gov/r9mbmo/issues/tblcont.html. The FWS is accepting public comment on these changes until June 5. Comments should be mailed to Chief, Office of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS 634\_ARLSQ, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.

* Danette R. Miller