Heavy harvests, harsh weather breed limited Canada goose plans

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Early last week, the Department of Natural Resources released its proposal for the 1992-93 Canada goose hunting seasons and limits in Maryland. The proposal is restrictive and will have an adverse impact on goose hunters and guides this year and at least for the next two years.

In brief, the proposal calls for 52 days of hunting spread over 60 calendar days, within which 18 days would be at a one-bird limit and 34 at a two-bird limit. The season splits are Nov. 16-Nov. 27, one bird; Dec. 4-Dec. 11, one bird; and Dec. 12-Jan. 20, two birds.

Hunters and guides who have leased land for goose hunting are no doubt already calculating their losses.

But before the gauntlets are thrown down and the need for or the wisdom of such regulations is challenged, a review of causes and effects is in order.

Canada geese are migrants, and the ones that we hunt are members of a population that winters here, flies mainly to northern Quebec to breed and raise its young along the upper eastern shore of Hudson Bay each spring and summer, and then flies south to winter again mainly in Delmarva.

The two major compounding factors are weather and hunting pressure. If there is a late spring at the head of the Atlantic Flyway in Quebec, then a poor breeding year may be expected. If there is too much hunting pressure in the flyway, then too large a kill may be expected.

When both poor breeding years and successful hunting seasons are combined, the survival rates of Canadas plummet.

"We can't control or manage what goes on on the breeding grounds, because it is largely weather-related, but we can control harvest," said Larry Hindman, manager of Maryland's migratory bird program.

"By controlling goose harvests, it has been demonstrated that you can improve survival. We have done that in Maryland since 1988. Our survival rates now are the highest in the flyway."

However, Hindman said, there has not been an especially successful breeding year on the Ungava Peninsula since 1983 ** and the ratio of immature birds to breeders has been heavily weighted toward breeders since 1985.

That might sound good in a way -- lots of breeders, you say, would have to result in lots of goslings, given good weather on the breeding grounds and good numbers of geese surviving to make the flight north each spring.

But what is happening is that without young birds in the fall flight south, the hunting pressure is directed toward the breeding stock, which in turn does not survive to fly north in the spring, and, given good weather, lay a good clutch of eggs and raise three or four goslings that will grow to join the next flight south.

The circle has been broken -- in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, down into the Carolinas and beyond.

The current management plan for the Atlantic Flyway is an attempt to again make the circle whole, and Maryland has little say in the matter because it must align its seasons within a framework set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The USFWS, with the support of the Atlantic Flyway Council, has determined that a 60 percent reduction in the kill of Canada geese is necessary during the next three years to rebuild the population to 725,000.

The mid-winter survey of Canada geese this year estimated a flyway population of 655,000, the lowest in 23 years. Breeding conditions in northern Quebec this spring and summer were abysmal, with snow and ice cover extensive on June 20, more than a month after normal breeding would begin. The year will be a bust for goslings.

"[But] we feel that even in a good year, like last year when the lTC weather seemed to be favorable, we didn't get any improvement in the number of goslings produced," Hindman said. "That leads us to believe that the breeding population is much lower than it should be. That also is something we don't know."

So, here is an opening for argument -- why don't we know? And if we don't know, how can proper decisions be made?

To answer the second question first, the USFWS has been to the breeding grounds along with the Canada Wildlife Service and volunteers from various wildlife organizations. They say that they know and that Maryland must follow along.

To answer the first question, Hindman said Maryland is laying the groundwork to initiate its own breeding ground surveys, hopefully in 1993.

"We have just now opened the lines of communications with the native people in Quebec [who have limited access to the breeding grounds] to initiate some breeding ground surveys. . . . " Hindman said. "Then we will find out really what the size of the breeding component is.

"But right now we are really operating in a vacuum. . . . Most of our information is here on the wintering grounds."

Survival rate is, therefore, Maryland's primary measuring stick, and in the Atlantic Flyway the survival rate is about 70 percent on the average.

"In a number of states the survival rate is lower," Hindman said. "You need survival rates in the neighborhood of 75 to 76 percent to maintain a stable population. If we are going to increase this population . . . we need to get survival rates up to 80 to 85 percent. That is a challenge."

Because the manageable factor is hunting pressure, a look at the Mississippi Valley population of Canada geese is interesting. Those geese nest on the west side of Hudson Bay, farther south than the Atlantic population.

The Mississippi Valley population has increased four-fold since the early 1980s because of restrictive hunting regulations and good gosling production.

"Now it is at an all-time high," Hindman said. "But harvest regulations were restricted severely in the early '80s and late '70s and have been fairly conservative since. . . .

"With good to moderate production, they have been able to manage that population to reach and exceed their objective. . . . We can do the same thing, but it is going to take several years of restrictive regulation [throughout the flyway]."

The states north of the Chesapeake region (Maryland, Delaware and Virginia) are opening 70-day seasons with a one-bird limit for the first time this season, coming in with a two-bird limit and then going with a three-bird limit after Dec. 31 to target non-migratory geese.

Opening dates north of us also have been delayed to reduce hunting pressure on migrant birds, Hindman said, "So they are not intercepted by the gun."

For all this there is a rough parallel, the rockfish.

Rockfish, too, is a migrant species that is highly prized through the Atlantic states and which after years of high harvest rates declined drastically.

Rockfish did not begin to recover until after a five-year suspension had been imposed and the species had been strictly managed from the Carolinas to Maine.

Now, the parallel may be considered uneven when compared with the current Canada goose strategy -- unless one is from the Carolinas or the Virginia back bays, where the season on Canadas already has been suspended.

Waterfowl season hearings

DNR's Wildlife Division has scheduled three public hearings on the proposals for waterfowl seasons for 1992-93 (all begin at 7 p.m.):

Aug. 26 -- Meade High School, on Clark Road, Fort Meade, Anne Arundel County.

Aug. 27 -- Holly Center, Route 12 (Snow Hill Road), Salisbury.

Aug. 28 -- Kent County High School, off Route 213 at the intersection of routes 297 and 298 in Wharton, Kent County.

Written comment on the proposals should be sent to Josh Sandt, Department of Natural Resources, 580 Taylor Ave., Annapolis, Md. 21401. Letters must be received by 4 p.m. Aug. 31.

Proposed waterfowl seasons

Canada geese

60 days; one bird per day for the first 20 days and two birds per day for the following 40 days. Shooting hours for all waterfowl nationwide are 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset.

.. .. .. .. .. .. ..Daily .. .. .. .. .. ..Poss.

Dates.. .. .. .. .. ...limit.. .. .. .. .. ...limit

Nov. 16 to Nov. 27.. .. .1.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 2

Dec. 4 to Dec. 11.. .. ..1.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 2

Dec. 12 to Jan. 20.. .. .2.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 4

Snow geese

Oct. 24 to Nov. 27.. .. .4.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 8

Dec. 1 to Feb. 10.. .. ..4.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..8

Brant

Nov. 16 to Nov. 27.. .. .2.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 4

Dec. 15 to Jan. 20.. .. .2.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...4

Ducks

Oct. 16 to Oct. 17 (excluding black ducks)

Nov. 27 to Nov. 27 (including black ducks

Dec. 15 to Jan. 9 (including black ducks)

Ducks limits: 3 ducks per day, which may include no more than 1 mallard hen, 1 pintail, 2 wood ducks, 2 redheads, 1 fulvous tree duck, 1 mottled duck and 1 black duck (when in season). Canvasback and harlequin are closed. Mergansers: daily limit of 5, of which 1 may be a hooded merganser. Coots: daily bay limit of 15.

1% Sea ducks (in sea duck zone only)

Oct. 9 to Jan. 20. .. .. .. 5.... .. .. .. .. .. .10

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