Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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FWS completes draft light goose EIS

Associate Editor

Fort Snelling, Minn. For the past three springs, hunters in
states throughout the Mississippi and Central flyways have
harvested light geese primarily snows and Ross’ geese under a
“conservation order” in an effort to slow the growth of
mid-continent light goose populations.

During that time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has
been developing an environmental impact statement (EIS) in order to
develop a more permanent management plan for the geese.

A draft of the EIS soon will be available for public comment,
according to Jim Kelley, wildlife biologist for the FWS Office of
Migratory Bird Management at Fort Snelling, Minn. Kelley drew up
the 170-page document and FWS officials in Washington, D.C.
currently are reviewing the draft.

The main portion of the draft EIS analyzes four
already-identified alternatives for dealing with light goose
populations which exceed management goals, Kelley said.

“It’s a detailed analysis of how each alternative would affect
light geese, how they would affect other species, and the
socio-economics of each alternative in other words, the economic
impacts of hunting.”

Burgeoning flock

Winter population counts of mid-continent light geese show the
numbers have tripled in the past 30 years, from about 800,000 in
1969 to a current estimate of 2.6 million birds.

“In the past couple years, the population actually has gone
down,” Kelley said. Three years ago, the populations reached 3
million. He said the mid-winter index goal is 1.6 million birds in
the population.

Concerns about the increased population of geese relate directly
to the birds’ breeding habitat in the Canadian arctic. According to
the FWS, “large areas of the breeding grounds around Hudson Bay
have been denuded of all vegetation by geese through overgrazing, a
situation scientists believe may also be contributing to the
decline of breeding populations of other migratory bird species
that share the breeding grounds and winter in the United
States.”

Kelley said the cause of mid-continent light goose population
growth isn’t certain, but likely is due in part to increased
farming in the birds’ wintering areas. More rice crops in the south
moved birds inland from the Gulf area, aiding the survival of birds
in the winter.

The spring hunt begins

In February of 1999, the FWS announced 24 states would be
offered the opportunity to harvest light geese in the Midwest and
South.

The conservation order, allowed by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act
if certain conditions exist, would allow hunting outside the
traditional migratory bird hunting season frameworks.

Hunters would be offered hunting methods illegal during regular
season waterfowl hunts. Electronic calls and unplugged shotguns
would be allowed and states could offer goose hunting from March
until August.

Before the season began, the Humane Society of the United States
challenged the conservation order, seeking a federal court order to
block the hunt. A federal judge denied the request, but found cause
for the FWS to complete a full environmental impact statement,
rather than a more-concise environmental assessment.

During the spring of 1999, spring hunters harvested about
342,000 light geese. The combined regular season-conservation order
mid-continent harvest for 1998-99 was just over 1 million light
geese, up from 730,000 birds in 1997-98, the season prior to the
conservation order.

In 1999-2000, the harvest of mid-continent light geese during
the regular season and spring hunt totalled about 1.4 million
birds.

Last year, the harvest was about 1.3 million birds, according to
Kelley. Of those, 600,000 were taken during the conservation order.
Combined with the harvest of mid-continent light geese in Canada,
the number reached about 1.4 million the goal of the FWS.

“That’s the level we need for a few years to get the population
under control,” he said.

Seventeen states in the Mississippi and Central flyways took
part in the conservation order hunt last spring.

The alternatives

The EIS contains four possible alternatives for management of
mid-continent light geese. Of the four, the FWS has a preferred
alternative.

That alternative would provide new regulatory options to state
wildlife agencies that would increase the harvest of light geese
above the results of the existing regulations. It could include
hunting methods approved during the conservation order, including
use of unplugged guns, and electronic calls, along with possibly
expanded shooting hours and the use of bait. A conservation order
would allow the extended spring hunt to continue.

The intent of this alternative, according to the FWS, is to
“significantly reduce or stabilize white goose populations without
threatening their long-term health.”

This alternative provides the greatest benefits, Kelley
said.

“We prefer to know the citizens are helping us,” he said. “We
know there’s not going to be the waste and it’s less costly.”

Two other alternatives could prove costly, and could result in
wasting geese, Kelley said.

One of those is population control on breeding grounds in
Canada. It could include trapping and culling programs, or market
hunting. Kelley said the alternative would involve disposal of
carcasses leaving them either to waste, or taking them to
communities for distribution. This method also would require
“extensive consultation” with Canada.

“We’ve already talked (with Canadian officials),” Kelley said.
“We consider this (alternative) a last resort-type approach.”

A similar alternative is population control on wintering and
migration grounds in the U.S. It would include the same aspects of
control on breeding grounds, although some methods of trapping the
birds would be difficult, given the fact they might not be able to
fly when trapped on breeding grounds.

The final alternative calls for no action.

The timeline

By the end of September, Kelley said the EIS should be available
for public perusal.

It will be sent to the federal Environmental Protection Agency,
and will be published in the Federal Register.

That will open a 60-day public comment period, he said. Later in
October, a series of nationwide public hearings will be held. The
dates and locations of the hearings have not yet been set.

Near the end of November, the public comment and hearing period
will end. During the winter, FWS officials will review and analyze
comments from the hearings and those received from the general
public. By late next spring, a final document should be ready,
Kelley said.

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