By Tim Spielman Associate Editor
Lansing — A new federal rule that would allow states to set a
Canada goose-hunting season as early as Aug. 1 is now official. The
rule – similar in ways to a “conservation order” that permits the
hunting of light geese in the spring – allows the use of electronic
calls, non-plugged shotguns, and removes other restrictions in
place during “regular” hunting seasons. The rules could continue
into the month of September.
It’s possible the new rule wouldn’t be available until 2008,
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released the final
resident Canada goose rule, which will allow not only state
wildlife agencies, but also landowners and airport officials, more
flexibility in controlling resident Canada goose populations. The
plan has been in the works since 1999, and could affect states in
the Atlantic, Mississippi, and Central flyways.
But what’s available now and what will be offered hunters are
two very different things, and officials in Michigan plan to
approach the subject quite deliberately, they say.
For one thing, the resident Canada goose population is now at a
level state officials believe is manageable. Dave Luukkonen, a DNR
research biology specialist, said the current resident Canada goose
population is estimated to be about 187,000, within the desirable
range of 175,000 to 205,000. He said the state goose population
peaked in 2000 at about 324,000 birds. The reduction in the past
five years might negate most of the need to further reduce goose
“We don’t really have a plan at this point,” Luukkonen said last
week. “We probably won’t implement August goose hunting on a
statewide basis, but there are areas we might consider.
“Even when goose numbers are high, our first priority is
utilizing existing hunting seasons,” he said, referring to the
effective use of the early September goose hunt in recent years.
“Even if these provisions had come around in the mid-1990s (when
goose numbers were growing rapidly), we still would have considered
existing hunts (as options).”
Luukkonen said he doubted Michigan hunters would be receptive to
liberalized hunting methods – including electronic calls and
unplugged guns – but might be willing to accept extended hunting
Would the new rules be effective in goose “trouble spots” in
Michigan? Luukkonen wonders if they would.
“I don’t know if the new rules would make geese more vulnerable
to hunting,” he said. Many of the goose problems are in urban areas
where firearm hunting isn’t allowed, anyway. He said the DNR has
attempted to find a balance between goose numbers that allow for
good hunting opportunities, but keep human-goose conflict
(depredation, etc.) to a minimum.
Luukkonen also believes it’s important to give the rules that
allowed an early September season time to work. He says there are
“time lags” between the implementation of new hunting rules, and
how a game population responds, or adapts. And this year, the state
reduced the bag limit on geese shot during the early season.
In past years, the state of Michigan, with help from the USDA,
has destroyed goose eggs and nests in problem areas, many in urban
settings. Birds also have been trapped and relocated, while others
have been killed, with the meat donated to food shelves. Luukkonen
said it’s a small percentage of the total resident goose population
that’s causing the conflicts. Ag depredation is minimal in the
Luukkonen said most of the problem geese are located in the
Detroit vicinity and in southeastern Michigan, though “we have hot
spots in other parts of the state, as well,” such as the Ann Arbor
and Kalamazoo areas.
Federal officials say it likely won’t just be state wildlife
agencies that get involved in liberal resident goose management.
The effort probably will include agricultural and public health
departments, the Federal Aviation Administration, and perhaps
According to federal officials, the new rule includes three main
The first component is control and depredation orders for
airports, landowners, agricultural producers, and public health
officials, with rules “designed to address resident Canada goose
depredation and damage while managing conflict.” It will allow the
take of resident Canada geese without a federal permit provided
certain reporting and monitoring requirements are fulfilled.
The second component includes expanded hunting methods and
opportunities designed to increase the sport harvest of resident
Canada geese. States may expand shooting hours and allow the use of
electronic and unplugged shotguns during a portion of the early
goose season in September.
The third component consists of a new regulation authorizing the
USFWS director to implement a resident Canada goose population
control program, or “management take.”
Under management take, the take of resident Canada geese outside
the existing sport hunting seasons (Sept. 1-March 10) would be
authorized and would enable states to authorize a harvest of
resident Canada geese between Aug. 1 and Aug. 31. Such rules would
not apply to Pacific Flyway states.
Nicholas Throckmorton, public affairs officer for the USFWS,
said the rule was created at the request of states that were
battling increasing resident goose populations. Changes in habitat
and urbanization were leading to increasing numbers of geese
staying year-round in northern states.
Throckmorton said the agency has been criticized for “abdication
of authority,” but that even with the rule, the USFWS continues to
have broad oversight of the rule’s implementation.
Though the rule was seven years in coming, time was needed for
revisions, meetings, and public comment periods. Throckmorton said
there were no lawsuits to slow the process.
Recently, though, the Humane Society of the United States has
raised concerns about the rule, stating that it favors measures
that would create places to which birds might migrate without being
a hindrance to humans.