Increased Hunting Proposed to Save Arctic Tundra
WASHINGTON, DC, October 1, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to increase hunting of snow geese and other small geese to help halt their destructive population boom. Vast flocks of geese are now overgrazing their fragile Arctic tundra breeding habitat, and for the past several years, wildlife managers have depended on hunters to help control their numbers.
"This environmental impact statement, when finalized, will establish a national management strategy for light goose populations that will return them to sustainable levels and protect vital migratory bird breeding habitat in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions," said acting USFWS director Marshall Jones. "Dozens of migratory bird species that winter in and migrate through the backyards, parks and wilds of the United States depend on this habitat, which is rapidly being destroyed by light goose populations that exceed the ability of the land to support them."
Increasing agricultural and refuge development along waterfowl flyways has improved the food supply available to light geese during their annual migrations. As a result, population growth rates have exploded. The annual winter population index of the so called mid-continent light geese has tripled in the past 30 years, from just over 800,000 birds in 1969 to a peak of 3.1 million birds in the winter of 1996-97.
Recent poor breeding conditions and increased harvests due to existing conservation measures have contributed to small declines in the winter count to a current level of 2.34 million birds. However, the total number of birds on known breeding colonies in the central and eastern Arctic likely approaches 5.8 million birds in spring.
Over the past decade, researchers have documented increasing habitat loss and degradation on thousands of acres of salt marshes and freshwater wetlands in the Canadian arctic, particularly in the Hudson Bay Lowlands.
Congregating in large numbers, light geese dig into the soil, consuming the roots of plants before they have sprouted. Grazing of aboveground portions of plants by geese further removes vegetative cover. Plant communities are increasingly unable to rebound from this intense grazing, grubbing and shoot pulling, particularly given the short growing season in the Arctic.
Removal of plant leads to an increase in evaporation rates, bringing additional salts to the surface and increasing the saltiness of the soil. This increased salinity reduces and eventually eliminates the ability of salt marsh plants to grow in the soil, resulting in desertification, erosion and permanent loss of habitat.
The agency's favored alternative would increase the harvest of light geese by allowing hunters to use electronic calls to lure geese in to hunting sites, and to hunt with unplugged shotguns after all other migratory bird seasons have closed. The preferred alternative would also create a new regulation to allow the hunting of light geese outside of normal hunting seasons.
The preferred alternative is similar to provisions that were implemented by legislation in February 1999, but were later challenged in court. Those measures were initially withdrawn to prevent further litigation, but due to concerns that habitat destruction would accelerate, the measures were reinstituted in November 1999, pending completion of the environmental impact statement.
The draft environmental impact statement on light goose management is available at: http://migratorybirds.fws.gov. The USFWS will accept public comments on the draft statement until December 14.