Springfield – Illinois hunters harvested a record 97,021 light
geese during last winter’s conservation order season.
That’s a far cry from the mere 2,254 taken only a decade
earlier, and more than double the 44,514 taken in the winter of
Such success – along with a need for control of the light goose
population – led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make
permanent rules allowing the use of “expanded” hunting methods and
implementation of a conservation order to increase light goose
harvest. The regulations have been in place in the Central and
Mississippi flyways on an interim basis since 1999.
In Illinois, a regular snow goose season takes place in the
fall, when there is a bag limit of 20 geese. But during the state’s
conservation order light goose season, light geese – a description
that covers greater and lesser snow geese and Ross’s geese –
features no bag limit and allows hunters to use unplugged shotguns
and electronic calls. Included in the rule is an allowance for
shooting hours to continue until one-half hour after sunset.
In 2009, the state’s conservation order season opens Jan. 11 in
the north zone and Feb. 1 in the central and south zones. It closes
March 31 in all three zones.
The final light snow geese rule, announced earlier this month by
the USFWS, makes the regulations involving the conservation order
season permanent. It also makes Atlantic Flyway states eligible to
implement the rules.
“The overabundance of light geese is harming their fragile
arctic breeding habitat,” H. Dale Hall, director of the USFWS, said
in explaining the decision. “The damage to the habitat is, in turn,
harming the health of the light geese and other bird species that
depend on the tundra habitat. Returning the light goose population
to sustainable levels is necessary to protect this habitat.”
During the last few decades, populations of light geese have
grown tremendously. The current breeding population of
mid-continent light geese could exceed 5 million birds, an increase
of more than 300 percent since the mid-1970s.
Troubling biologists is the fact that numbers of central arctic
light geese have damaged portions of their fragile tundra breeding
habitat – many areas may take decades to recover.
According to the USFWS, the geese themselves are showing
lower-than-normal body size and suffering a decrease in gosling
survival due to habitat damage.
Overabundant greater snow geese have also damaged natural marsh
habitats and caused agricultural depredations on migration and
wintering areas in eastern Canada and Atlantic coast states, the
Since implementation of the conservation order in 1999, the
harvest of midcontinent light geese has more than doubled, and the
population growth rate as measured by the midwinter index has been
The management goal is to reduce the number of midcontinent
light geese by 50 percent, and to reduce the greater snow geese
population to 500,000 birds.
During Illinois’ regular snow goose season in 2007, hunters took
an estimated 6,700 snow geese, while an estimated 52,314 snow geese
were harvested during the 2007 conservation order snow goose
“That represents a 30 percent decrease from the 2006 estimated
harvest of 74,268 snow geese,” DNR waterfowl biologist Ray
Marshalla pointed out.
The south zone accounted for 63 percent of the harvest in the
state, Marshall said, adding that most of the harvest in the state
occurs in February.
What’s in store for 2009? Marshalla reported that during the
2008 midwinter survey, biologists counted 2,455,100 light geese, 16
percent fewer than in 2007. Production is expected to be average
and better than last year.
The regular snow goose season ends Jan. 10 in the north zone and
Jan. 31 in the south and central zones.