U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Finalizes Light Goose Conservation Rules
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently finalized 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, when the Arctic Tundra Habitat Emergency Conservation Act was passed. The final rule makes the regulations permanent in those flyways, and also makes Atlantic Flyway states eligible to implement them. To finalize the regulations, the Service published a Record of Decision and Final Rule that completes the National Environmental Policy Act process for light goose management in the November 5, 2008, Federal Register.
“The overabundance of light geese is harming their fragile arctic breeding habitat,” said H. Dale Hall, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “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 delicate habitat, and every species dependent on it.”
During the last few decades, populations of greater and lesser snow geese and Ross’s geese, collectively called “light geese,” have grown to historic highs. The current breeding population of mid-continent light geese likely exceeds 5 million birds, an increase of more than 300 percent since the mid-1970s. Historic numbers of central arctic light geese have denuded portions of their fragile tundra breeding habitat to the point many areas may take decades to recover. The geese are showing lower-than-normal body size and suffering a decrease in gosling survival due to habitat degradation. The deteriorating habitat is also having a negative impact on some local populations of other bird species. For example, the number of semi-palmated sandpiper and red-necked phalarope nests have declined at La Perouse Bay, Manitoba, where habitat has been severely degraded by the geese. 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. Decreasing the light goose population will help ease the pressure on the arctic and migration habitats, improving the health for all its associated wildlife populations, including light geese.
Since implementation of the conservation order in 1999, the harvest of mid-continent light geese has more than doubled, and the population growth rate as measured by the midwinter index has been reduced. The management goal is to reduce the number of mid-continent light geese by 50 percent, and to reduce the greater snow geese population to 500,000 birds.
The final rule authorizes the use of new hunting methods, such as electronic calls and unplugged shotguns, to harvest light geese during normal hunting season frameworks. These regulations are allowed during a light-goose-only hunting season when all other waterfowl and crane hunting seasons, excluding falconry, are closed. Further, the rule authorizes States to implement a conservation order to allow the harvest of light geese outside of traditional hunting seasons. In addition, the conservation order allows shooting hours to continue until one-half hour after sunset and removes the daily bag limit for light geese.
The Service published two rules in 1999 to authorize 24 southern and Midwestern States to increase the harvest of light geese in order to reduce the population. The rules were the result of an extensive study of arctic light goose populations completed in 1997 by the Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group, as well as dozens of scientific papers describing the burgeoning light goose population and subsequent degradation of arctic habitat and associated wildlife health. The rules were withdrawn to prevent further litigation following a court challenge by the Humane Society of the United States, Animal Alliance of Canada, Canadian Environmental Defence Fund, and The Animal Protection Institute. However, Congress subsequently passed the Arctic Tundra Habitat Emergency Conservation Act in 1999 to reinstate the rules while the Service completed an Environmental Impact Statement on light goose management. The Service published the Final Environmental Impact Statement in June of 2007 after undergoing public comments and hearings on the Draft EIS. The EIS examined five alternatives for managing light goose populations, ranging from no action, direct agency population control, to the preferred alternative of authorizing regulations to increase harvest.
The Final Rule that implements the preferred alternative in the EIS is available on the internet at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/fedreg/MGBHR.HTML.
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