3-goose bag in line for early hunt

By Bob Hecker Contributing Writer

Columbus — A recent Web survey by Ohio Outdoor News
showed that Ohio hunters would love a higher daily bag limit for
Canada geese.

It was far from a scientific sample, but survey respondents
unanimously said yes to the idea of raising the limit from the
current two birds per day for the regular fall and winter
season.

But the state can’t simply grant their wish with the sudden wave
of a wand.

For one thing, bag limits for ducks, geese and other migratory
waterfowl are set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based on
annual breeding and population surveys along with input from state
and conservation agencies.

“It’s not like we can just say, ‘OK, let’s change it,’ as we can
with other hunting seasons,” said Dave Scott, wildlife resource
administrator for the DNR Division of Wildlife. “The Fish and
Wildlife Service sets bag limits for migratory waterfowl based on
its own research and input from (individual) state
researchers.”

The two-bird daily bag limit for Canada geese has been in place
for some 60 years in Ohio and has worked well in maintaining goose
populations, said Dave Sherman, a wildlife biologist at the Crane
Creek Wildlife Research Station near Lake Erie.

“The limit has been two Canada geese since the 1940s for the
regular fall and winter season in Ohio,” Sherman said.

The only deviation, he said, came when the state added an early
Canada goose season in selected counties in September of 1991 and
instituted a three-bird daily limit.

The September early goose season went statewide in 1994 with a
four-bird limit that later climbed to five before returning to
three last year.

The 2006 early Canada goose season in Ohio will be from Sept.
1-15 with a three-bird limit.

However, for the longer fall and winter Canada goose season in
2006-07, the statewide daily limit will remain at two, and Sherman
doesn’t foresee that changing in the near future.

Besides protecting the birds from being overharvested, he said,
the two-bird limit is helping preserve a fragile subspecies of
Canada goose known as “interiors.”

Sherman explained that Canada geese are divided into several
subspecies based not only on appearance but on where they normally
breed.

In Ohio, the most commonly seen Canada geese are “giants” and
“interiors.” Giants are larger (up to 18 pounds) and vary slightly
in appearance from interiors, but the birds are virtually
indistinguishable on the wing. Hunters may not know what type
they’ve shot until they have it in hand and it’s not even a sure
bet the two species can be distinguished at that point, biologist
Mark Shieldcastle said at a waterfowl symposium this winter.

“The giant Canada goose population is doing well, and its
numbers are increasing,” Sherman said.

According to the 2006 USFWS Waterfowl Population Status Report,
wildlife biologists last spring tallied a record 1.69 million giant
Canada geese in the Mississippi Flyway states (which includes Ohio)
– a 7-percent increase over 2005.

However, Sherman said, the interior Canada goose population “is
not as healthy.”

He cited two reasons. First, interiors face stiff competition
for food in their usual breeding grounds (southern James Bay in
Ontario, Canada) from growing numbers of snow geese in that
area.

Second, more giant Canada geese are migrating north to molt
around southern James Bay, providing additional stress for the
interiors.

When Canada geese migrate south and through Ohio during hunting
season, the daily bag limit applies to all subspecies – two Canada
geese no matter the type.

“So, if we raised the limit to, say, five,” Sherman said, “it
would drastically impact the interior goose population” since they
can less afford to take greater losses.

But Sherman said a remedy may come about through research.

Instead of raising the bag limit, he said, wildlife officials
could “look at increasing the number of days that you can hunt” and
tailoring those days to when fewer interiors are present in
Ohio.

In one study, researchers are asking selected goose hunters to
extract feathers from birds they have killed and send them to
wildlife biologists who, by examining DNA, can determine
approximately when the birds entered Ohio and where they
concentrated.

“This way, we might be able to adapt the hunting season to
coincide with periods when interiors generally are not in the
state,” Sherman said.

“Wings collected at certain dates and locations can give us an
idea of where the birds are and whether they are in fact giants or
interiors,” added Dave Scott. “We think that, down the road, the
DNA study will help us make a case for increasing hunting
opportunities, whether by an extended season or higher bag
limits.”

Scott noted that a state survey last spring indicated that
Ohio’s giant Canada goose population was down by about 18 percent
from 2005, but he says that may have been due to unusually warm
temperatures in the spring.

“Many of our wildlife surveys can be affected by weather. We had
a warmer-than-usual April, so a lot of the birds may have already
moved north when we did the survey,” Scott said.

“Our total numbers of giant Canada geese were down, but we think
the breeding portions of the population were about the same,” he
said.

Overall, Scott said, officials expect that the giant Canada
goose population will be about the same as last year.

“There should be plenty of birds around for the early Canada
goose season this September,”Scott said.

Sherman agreed, pointing out that goose populations “look good
from Canada. They had a good breeding season.”

In 2005-2006, Sherman said, Ohio hunters killed an estimated
90,000 Canada geese in the early and regular hunting seasons
combined.

Ohio’s regular 2006-07 fall and winter duck and goose season
dates, based on federal guidelines, will not be officially
established until the Ohio Wildlife Council votes on them on Aug.
23, Sherman said.

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