Number of geese declines Late melt hurts Atlantic population


The snow melt came one to three weeks late this year above the 54th parallel, in the vast expanse of tundra and taiga in northern Quebec and Labrador where Canada geese migrate each year to nest and raise their young.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1992 Status of Waterfowl & Fall Flight Forecast, the late snow melt, which prevents geese from establishing nesting sites, will result in reduced production for most North American goose populations.

The greatest impact, however, will be felt by the Atlantic population, those birds that nest in Newfoundland, Labrador and Quebec, with the greatest number seeming to come from Ungava Bay and the northeastern shore of Hudson Bay on the Ungava Peninsula.

A poor reproductive year for Canada geese usually results in an equally poor flight south in the fall and, perhaps, restricted goose hunting in the Eastern Shore sectors of the Atlantic Flyway.

Waterfowl seasons and bag limits are set under federal guidelines, and the annual status report and fall flight forecast is a primary tool used by waterfowl managers.

"The decline of the Atlantic population of the Canada goose continues and is a matter of serious concern," the report states. "Most other goose populations that nest at high latitudes will experience very poor recruitment this year as well. However, due to the better status of these populations, they should be able to withstand a poor production year."

For example, the Southern James Bay population, which contributes geese to Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama as well as northwestern Pennsylvania and western North and South Carolina, was expected to have a fruitful summer.

A survey of the nesting population on Akimiski Island in James Bay indicated that clutches were good with an average of five eggs each and nest success rates about 80 percent.

But during a cooperative survey by the United States and Canada from June 20-22, the northern Ungava Peninsula was mostly snow covered and frozen, and Canada geese were largely in groups or pairs, suggesting the birds were in the late egg-laying or early incubation stages.

Generally, production decreases markedly if nest sites are frozen after June 15, and the report says that production will be well below average this year.

The January survey of Canada geese in the Atlantic Flyway estimated 645,500 birds, a drop from 706,900 in 1991 and the lowest index in the past 23 years.

Compounding the problem is that numbers of non-migratory resident geese are increasing -- in southeastern Pennsylvania, for example, a special season on resident Canada geese will be implemented this year -- and as they increase, the migratory population decreases at an expanded rate.

While numbers of Canada geese are dropping, the snow goose population has been increasing (up to 434,500 this spring from 355,900 last year). However, nesting conditions in Foxe Basin and Bylot Island, well north of Hudson Bay, were abysmal this summer and a reduced fall flight is forecast.

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