Goose hunter call-in compliance improves

Madison – Wisconsin has the most stringent Canada goose harvest
reporting requirement in the United States. But the system, which
requires hunters to call in each goose within 48 hours of the kill,
is also the reason Wisconsin boasts one of the longest Canada goose
seasons in the Mississippi Flyway.

“We’re allowed to have the hunting seasons we have because we
monitor our own harvest,” said Kent Van Horn, DNR waterfowl
biologist. “Goose hunters in Wisconsin have some of the most
abundant opportunities because we have this system.”

Most states rely on post-season hunter surveys to estimate their
harvest. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also calculates kill
totals based on hunter surveys. It’s a method that often leads to
an overestimation of the kill, Van Horn said.

“Our estimate of the total goose harvest is 20 to 30 percent
lower than the federal harvest estimate,” he said. “The feds are
looking at flyway levels, not state levels.”

Overstating the goose kill leads to shorter seasons and lower
bag limits. In recent years, Exterior Zone goose hunters have
enjoyed 85-day regular seasons, along with an additional 15-day
early September goose season.

In an effort to provide as much hunting opportunity as possible
to Wisconsin’s 80,000 waterfowl hunters, the call-in reporting
system was put in place in 1997. The key component today, as it was
12 years ago, is hunter compliance.

Thankfully, goose hunters have improved in their frequency of
calling (800) 99-GOOSE to register birds. Hunter compliance rates
in the Exterior Zone have varied from a low of 67 percent in 2001
to highs of 86 percent in 2006 and 2007. Rates for the early
September season have been as high as 92 percent in 2005 and as low
as 57 percent in 2001. Goose hunters in the Horicon and Collins
zones are issued carcass tags, so they are not required to call in
their geese.

“The compliance rate jumps around a bit, but generally, it’s
getting better,” Van Horn said.

Goose hunters are required to slit a date stamp on the
appropriate harvest permit before they retrieve or handle the bird,
then report the date and county for each goose killed within 48
hours.

The system’s longevity and stability have helped hunters conform
to the law.

“Whenever you initiate a new regulation, people who have been
doing something else have a hard time changing,” Van Horn said.
“Over time, people get used to it, and people that are new goose
hunters don’t question it.”

An emphasis on enforcement also helps nudge hunters to report
their geese. In 2007, the DNR warden force spent 7,652 hours on
waterfowl enforcement, which includes 1,948 hours on goose
enforcement. Wardens issued 55 citations and 72 warnings for
failure to report geese. The violation carries a $163.20 fine.

“I would say compliance is higher for two reasons,” said Todd
Schaller, DNR conservation warden at Oshkosh. “One is cell phones
have made it easy to report geese. They can do it while they’re
sitting in their layouts in the field, and some hunters do that.
The second reason is awareness because of education and
enforcement.”

In most cases when hunters fail to report their goose harvest,
they simply have forgotten.

“It’s more of a forgetfulness factor than the hunter trying to
get away with something,” Schaller said. “I think (85 percent) is a
good reporting level. But can it be improved? Absolutely.”

Regardless of the call-in compliance percentage, the efforts of
wardens are important for goose management.

“The wardens and biologists are a team,” Van Horn said. “While I
can check the reported geese by date and county of harvest through
the computer system, at the same time, wardens are checking hunters
in the field. They can go back to the truck and send the data to
Madison. From that, we calculate a rate of compliance.

“The wardens’ piece of harvest data is critical. If I didn’t
have the field work they’re doing, I couldn’t estimate the
population. I can estimate the population whether 85 or 90 percent
call in, as long as I know the percent.”

In 2007, hunters killed an estimated 81,852 Canada geese in
Wisconsin, including a record 21,760 during the early season.
Exterior Zone hunters took 44,000, with Horicon and Collins zones
accounting for about 16,000 combined.

Estimating the Canada goose harvest has become increasingly
important as the state’s resident giant population has grown. After
years of double-digit growth, the resident Canada goose population
has leveled off at about 120,000, according to spring breeding
survey results.

“More than half of our goose harvest is from geese that nest
here,” Van Horn said.

Using spring breeding surveys and harvest data, biologists
obtain an accurate picture of how many Canada geese nest and live
in each county. The better the data, the more liberal the hunting
seasons and bag limits.

“With good data, I can advocate for longer seasons and more
birds in the bag,” Van Horn said. “The main point is we’re doing it
to benefit the goose hunters.”

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