Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Feds say light goose order should remain

By Joe
Albert
Associate Editor

Washington – The process has been ongoing since 1999, but the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is about to finish an Environmental
Impact Statement that examines management of light geese.

As discussed in the 254-page EIS, the agency’s preferred
management alternative would allow the use of expanded hunting
methods and the implementation of a conservation order that’s
already in place in a number of states in the Central and
Mississippi flyways.

A public inspection period ends Aug. 18, after which the USFWS
will decide which management option it will implement. But for
those who’ve targeted light geese – greater and lesser snow geese,
as well as Ross’s geese – during springtime conservation order
hunts, there’s likely to be very little in the way of change.

‘Hunters probably won’t see much of a change when the Service
publishes the final management plan and rules this fall,’ said
USFWS spokesman Nicholas Throckmorton.

Since 1999, expanded hunting opportunities that allow the use of
unplugged shotguns, electronic calls, and shooting until one-half
hour after sunset have been in place to help reduce light goose
populations that have increased more than 300 percent since the
1970s. The breeding population of mid-continent light geese
currently exceeds 5 million.

The yearly harvest of light geese has more than doubled (about
700,000 before the conservation order; between 1 million and 1.5
million thereafter) in the years since the conservation order has
been in place, but the goal of reducing the bird’s population by
half hasn’t been achieved.

‘We are by no means there yet, but we are marching in that
direction, which is good,’ Throckmorton said. ‘It’s still going to
take a few more years.’

Twenty-four states in the South and Midwest are covered by the
conservation order, which the USFWS says is necessary because light
goose populations are too high for their habitat; they’ve denuded
their Arctic breeding grounds of vegetation.

As a result, the USFWS in 1999 implemented two rules that gave
24 states the opportunity to use the conservation order. The
Service withdrew those rules following challenges in court, but
Congress that year passed legislation allowing expanded hunting
until the Service could complete the EIS. The EIS examines five
ways to manage light goose populations.

‘The bottom line of the EIS is it lays out no action, expanded
hunting methods, goose control in the Arctic, or goose control on
the wintering grounds,’ Throckmor-ton said. ‘The Service’s
preferred alternative is to continue with the conservation order as
it is now.’

One of the alternatives is a two-phased approach that includes
expanded hunting and elements of the control options on the
breeding and wintering grounds.

Reducing the light goose population will leave bird numbers that
are high enough for uses other than hunting, according to the
EIS.

‘If at any time evidence is presented that clearly demonstrates
that there no longer exists a serious threat of injury to the area
or areas involved for a particular light goose population, we will
initiate action to suspend the conservation order, and/or
regular-season changes, for that population,’ according to the
EIS.

After the USFWS released its draft EIS in 2001, 57 percent of
the 414 individuals who commented supported some sort of goose
control. All 24 federal, state, or provincial agencies, one state
representative, six tribal groups, and four flyway councils
supported goose control, according to the USFWS.

The DNR supports the agency’s proposal that the conservation
order continue, said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.

It’s business as usual for the state, he said, adding that,
‘we’ll wait and see what happens.’

But, ‘I don’t know what you do if we can’t harvest more geese or
if harvest starts to decline,’ Cordts said.

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