Maryland natural resources officials have decided to trim the Canada goose hunting season to 35 days this winter, a compromise that reflects the practical need to protect the migrating flock as well as the political reality of dealing with pressure from high places.
Last year, the Canada goose season lasted 60 days. This year's plan represents something of a midway point between the recommendations of the Department of Natural Resources for a 30-day season and demands by the powerful speaker of the House, Kent County Democrat R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., for a season of at least 45 days.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer intervened on Mr. Mitchell's behalf, although the governor said yesterday that he thought Mr. Mitchell had asked for too much, and he said he was happy with the compromise.
"Clay felt very strongly about this," Mr. Schaefer said.
The Department of Natural Resources' plan will permit hunters to bag no more than one Canada goose a day for the first 20 days of the season, and up to two a day for the final 15 days.
Last winter, hunters were permitted to shoot up to two birds a day for 40 days of the 60-day season, and one a day for the other 20.
The shortened season this winter is part of a state effort to restore the population of wintering Canada geese to around 400,000.
Surveys have shown the population has dropped in recent years, to about 234,000 last winter.
Under the original plan for a 30-day, one-bird-a-day season, natural resources officials predicted that the 400,000 goal could be reached in four to five years.
Under the compromise, however, it now may take eight or nine years, said Natural Resources Deputy Secretary John R. Griffin.
Mr. Mitchell represents a rural district in the Upper Eastern Shore where goose hunting has long been a winter tradition and a staple of the region's economy.
He has said he feared that too short a season would be financially harmful to farmers who maintain and develop good habitat, and then rent their land to commercial hunting guides.
The guides themselves as well as sporting goods stores and motels and restaurants that cater to hunters also were at risk, Mr. Mitchell said.
Yesterday he applauded the final plan, calling it "a good compromise."
Torrey C. Brown, the secretary of natural resources, said the decision attempted to balance Eastern Shore economic concerns with the goals of conserving the geese.
"We needed to balance the economic and recreational concerns [that were] raised and still see some increase in the goose population," Dr. Brown said.
"I realize many people would rather see a more rapid recovery, but we also had to consider the tradition of goose hunting enjoyed by many and the positive economic impact that hunting has on Maryland's Eastern Shore."
Ned Gerber, a waterfowl habitat ecologist with Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage, a nonprofit organization based in Easton, called the compromise "a pretty fair balance."
"The goose resource has to come first," he said. "Once you shoot a population to the point it can't recover, the party is over."
Mr. Gerber said that allowing hunters to bag two birds a day for the final two weeks of the season may well contribute to the delay in reaching the 400,000 goal, but he said it will be a help to the commercial hunting industry.
Out-of-state hunters, he said, generally would not come to Maryland if the bag limit was only one bird a day.
Back in March, state natural resources officials said that the season might have to be as short as 18 days if the summer hatching season for geese in Quebec was bad.
But the hatch this summer is believed to have been good, which prompted the department to propose the 30-day season during five recent public hearings.
Mr. Gerber said that too short a season would have discouraged farmers from leaving sufficient wheat or corn in their fields for the birds, and he said that ultimately would hurt the flock.
"If people give up on a wildlife resource, that can spell trouble for the resource," he said.
The dates for Maryland's 1993-1994 Canada goose season are:
* Nov. 22 to Nov. 26, with a daily bag limit of one.
* Dec. 13 to Dec. 27, with a daily bag limit of one.
* Dec. 28 to Jan. 11, with a daily bag limit of two.