In February, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service sanctioned a special spring conservation order as part of an effort to save fragile arctic habitats from damage caused by exploding white goose populations. The first of its kind spring hunt was designed to use waterfowl hunters to help reduce the population of mid-continent white geese--snow and Ross' geese--in the Mississippi and Central Flyways.
While there were no opportunities for such hunts in Montana because the major concentrations of those geese are hundreds of miles east, many Montanans are interested in the issue.
In response to a legal challenge to the conservation order, the USFWS is currently wrapping up a series of nationwide public meetings to solicit comment for an Environmental Impact Statement evaluating potential remedies to address the destructive effect of rapidly increasing white goose populations on migratory bird habitat in the U.S. and Canada.
Among the alternatives being considered are the creation of a new conservation order and the legalization of additional hunting methods such as electronic calls, unplugged shotguns and expanded shooting hours. USFWS will also consider the effects of taking no action.
The EIS will also evaluate the management alternative that includes direct population control strategies on the birds' wintering grounds and migration routes in the U.S., including trapping and culling programs.
The targeted snow and Ross' geese populations migrate primarily through the Central and Mississippi flyways and nest in Canada's central and eastern arctic regions. It is within these areas, especially along the west and south coasts of Hudson Bay, where habitat damage is severe. The white goose population has jumped from an estimated 800,000 in the 1960s to 2.8 million today, far more geese than the fragile arctic tundra breeding grounds can support. Scientists believe the actual spring breeding population may be at least 5 million birds. Agricultural development and the establishment of waterfowl refuges along migration routes and wintering areas in the Midwest and South--which have increased food and security for the birds--have contributed to the population explosion.
Snow and Ross' geese feed by pulling up and eating the roots of plants. Overgrazing by the geese around a nesting colony results in the dissipation of exposed soil and an increase in salinity levels. The damage is often irreversible. In addition to depleting their own food sources, the geese have destroyed other habitats, which has contributed to the decline of more than 30 migratory bird species, including several species of shorebirds.
Montanans can comment on the EIS in writing by Nov. 22 to: Office of Migratory Bird Management, USFWS, Department of Interior, 4401 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 634, Arlington, VA 22203. Comments can also be sent via e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, contact the Office of Migratory Bird Management at 703-358-1714.