By Tim Spielman
Montevideo, Minn. Heading into the final week of goose hunting
at the Lac qui Parle hunting zone in western Minnesota, guide Steve
Baldwin and his crew had harvested about 20 birds. All told,
hunters there had taken just over 2,000 birds, far below the
16,000-bird harvest index set prior to the season.
Poor hunting, Baldwin said, is taking its toll on his business,
as well as others in the area. That’s why last week he contacted
federal and state legislators, asking for a two-week extension to a
30-day hunt scheduled to close Sunday, Nov. 5.
“This is the worst I’ve seen it,” said Baldwin, who’s directed
the Lac qui Parle Hunt Camp since 1987. “We’re simply asking for a
two-week extension so we can be self-sufficient. We’re not asking
business to manage the flock.”
Baldwin said the first four hunts of the year hunts which
attract hunters from as far away as Texas, Tennessee, and Georgia
were cancelled because of lack of birds in the Lac qui Parle
But DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials say the requested
extension won’t occur this year.
“There’s no way to extend the season short of federal
legislation,” said Steve Wilds, USFWS migratory birds chief at St.
Paul. “The regulations don’t allow us to make a mid-season
Only in the case of a natural emergency, such as a forest fire
that temporarily halts the season, could such an extension be
allowed, Wilds said.
The daily and possession limits for Canada geese in the LqP
goose zone and the west-central goose zone is half that of other
parts of Minnesota. The limits are more restrictive to protect the
Eastern Prairie Population of Canada geese that migrates through
that area. Unlike giant Canada geese, the EPP population is
struggling, officials say.
The population of the flock, as counted this spring, was about
275,000, up from last year. However, EPP production in the nesting
grounds near Hudson Bay were the worst since 1983, according to
Steve Maxson, goose specialist for the DNR at Bemidji.
Season lengths in the LqP zone are based, in part, on nesting
success. A series of poor nesting seasons doesn’t bode well for EPP
geese, which don’t reproduce until they are four to five years old,
lowering the odds they survive until breeding age.
“That’s a lot of times to go south,” Wilds said.
Congressmen and state legislators began last week contacting
state and federal wildlife officials in an attempt to extend the
State Rep. Doug Peterson, DFL-Madison, said “unpredictable
seasons and arbitrary quotas”contributed to poor hunting and
economic damage to area businesses. Furthermore, his press release
indicated since “10,000 to 12,000 (geese) are taken in a normal
year the season is too short to let hunters take advantage of
Wildlife officials point out the index set on LqP geese is
different than some harvest quotas.
“The key thing is the quota isn’t a harvest goal to achieve,”
Maxson said. “It’s a fail-safe to prevent overharvest on those
years when everything falls into place.”
Recent years have proved otherwise. This year, as warm weather
has dominated the Minnesota fall, EPP geese have been content to
eat their fill of grain in relatively safe confines near their
breeding grounds. As of early this week, Maxson said about 200,000
EPP geese were in the vicinity of Winnipeg and Oak Hammock Marsh in
Manitoba, the first major stopover location on the flock’s
Maxson said the LqP harvest index has been met eight times in
the past 23 years. This year’s harvest will make it eight for 24.
With warm temps predicted and few geese in the area, the harvest
likely will be less than 3,000 birds. As of Monday, there were only
about 25,000 birds taking up residence in the refuge which
typically this time of year hosts near 100,000 birds.
DNR Division of Wildlife Chief Tim Bremicker said the state has
some flexibility with scheduling hunts, though the season lengths
are offered by the USFWS following flyway meetings in the
“We can shift the season to later dates, or we can even split
the season,” he said. “What we do is based on what people have
asked for. The problem is, geese aren’t predictable.”
Some officials believe the birds are more wary.
In 1999, when the harvest index also was set at 16,000, about
1,300 birds were taken. In 1998, during a 20-day hunt, about 7,200
geese were harvested. The index then was 10,000 geese. In 1996 and
1997, the seasons lasted 30 days and the harvest index was 16,000
birds each year. In 1997, about 7,700 birds were harvested while in
1996, that number was more than 9,700.
This year, the LqP season began a week later than the rest of
the state. And it’s likely the expected influx of geese will arrive
after the Nov. 5 close of the season.