New hunt rules carry hopes for thinning geese numbers; Burgeoning populations damaging environment


Waterfowl managers in Midwestern and Southern states and north-central Canada have a perplexing problem -- too many lesser snow and Ross' geese. So many of them, in fact, they are eating themselves and other migratory species out of summer tundra habitat.

Over the past three decades, the number of "light" geese in the mid-continent population has grown from 800,000 birds to more than 3 million.

Increased agricultural and refuge development along the flyways through the Midwest and South have provided light geese with ample forage during their annual migrations, and the population has risen dramatically as a result.

"For years, the United States has inadvertently contributed to the growth of this problem through changes in agricultural and wetland management," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Jamie Rappaport Clark. "Now, we can begin to say we're part of the solution."

USFWS, after extensive consultations with the Canadian government, has implemented rules that will allow 24 Midwestern and Southern states to greatly expand hunting opportunities for light geese.

Those states can allow the use of normally prohibited unplugged shotguns and electronic goose calls for the balance of goose season this year, provided other waterfowl and crane seasons have been closed.

Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, states also can allow hunters to take light geese outside of normal migratory bird-hunting season frameworks.

Both rules are designed to decrease light goose populations.

"If we do not take action, we risk not only the health of the Arctic breeding grounds, but also the future of many of America's migratory bird populations," Clark said

Under normal conditions, the grubbing of light geese helps stimulate growth in the salt marsh areas of the summer breeding grounds. But with their numbers at all-time highs, the geese, which feed by pulling up and eating the roots of plants, are denuding large areas.

According to USFWS, over-grazing combined with the short Arctic growing season may result in permanent habitat damage.

A 1996 survey of 1,200 miles of coastline along west Hudson Bay and James Bay estimated 35 percent of original habitat had been destroyed and another 30 percent had been severely damaged.

The breeding grounds in the area of Hudson Bay support dozens of species that migrate through or winter over in the United States.

Spring youth hunt

Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Kent County will hold its first youth turkey hunt this spring for hunters aged 10 through 15.

Refuge manager Martin Kaehny said permits will be required to participate in the hunt and only four will be chosen by lottery for each hunt day. Dates will be May 8 and May 15.

Applications for permits may be obtained by writing Eastern Neck NWR, 1730 Eastern Neck Road, Rock Hall, Md. 21661, or by calling 410-639-7056.

Completed applications and a non-refundable $10 fee must be received at the refuge office by April 14. The lottery drawing will be held April 15.

Pub Date: 2/21/99

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