It may seem highly out of the ordinary -- and, indeed, it is -- but Montana waterfowlers will have a unique opportunity to hunt snow geese and other "light" geese -- snow and Ross' geese -- this spring if they are willing to travel beyond the eastern border of the state. The eastern Dakotas will be the location of the nearest north-bound geese available to waterfowl hunters hoping to take advantage of an unusual spring season sanctioned by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
On February 16, the USFWS issued a special conservation order as part of an effort to save fragile arctic habitats from damage caused by exploding "light" goose populations. The light goose population there has jumped from an estimated 800,000 in the 1960s to about 5 million today, far more geese than their arctic tundra breeding grounds can support. Agricultural development and the establishment of waterfowl refuges along migration routes and wintering areas -- which have increased food and security for the birds -- have contributed to the population explosion.
The first-of-its-kind spring season is designed to use waterfowl hunters to help reduce the population of mid-continent light geese in the Mississippi and Central Flyways. Because there are so few light geese in Montana's part of the Central Flyway, FWP opted not to offer a hunting opportunity when one essentially doesn't exist. The major concentrations of those geese are hundreds of miles east of Montana. Also, because the Pacific Flyway is not included in this special, federally sanctioned conservation order, there cannot be a spring hunt at Freezout Lake near Fairfield, which hosts the state's largest concentration of light geese during spring and fall migrations.
North Dakota and South Dakota, among other states, are planning to take advantage of the spring hunting season. Details on North Dakota's spring season are not final. For information call 701-328-6300. For information on hunting in South Dakota, call South Dakota Game & Fish at 605-773-3485.