Canada Geese are about as common as the green lawns they like to hang out on. But at one time they’d almost disappeared from the region. Thanks to successful wildlife management efforts, the goose is back, and now the question is how best to manage a success story that some say has been too successful. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Gunderson has more:
Canada Geese are about as common as the green lawns they like to hang out on. But at one time they’d almost disappeared from the region. Thanks to successful wildlife management efforts, the goose is back, and now the question is how best to manage a success story that some say has been too successful. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Gunderson has more.
In 30 years, the giant Canada goose was on the verge of extinction, but the species has made a comeback that amazes biologists. There were just about enough for a gaggle when humans stepped in to help in the late 1960’s, now numbering in the millions today, the goose is a wildlife management success story that won’t stop.
“We’ve spent millions and millions of dollars to bring the population back.
Now it’s high and it’s eating everything in sight.”
Standing on the edge of a waist high soybean field on his Minnesota farm, Chad Jetvig points to a slough about a quarter mile away. It’s obvious where geese feasted on tender young soybean plants early this summer, leaving large bare spots in the field.
Jetvig says he’s always accepted some crop loss from geese as a part of farming among the prairie potholes of western Minnesota, but he says the amount damage is no longer acceptable.
“I would say in the past two years in particular, but it’s been getting worse each year, we’ve started to see huge areas. Just on this one single farm at two hundred acres that’s over 40 thousand dollars right just out of our pocket. That’s a lot of money.”
And thousands of farmers in the Midwest and Northeast U.S. have similar stories.
This year and last, Chad Jetvig has gotten a permit to shoot geese eating his crops, but he says it’s an exercise in futility.
“We came out here and shot one time and the next time you even drive by they’re gone. They’d even know the color of the pickup. If this one blue pickup we’re using came around, they seen that thing, whoosh, they’re gone.”
Only to return as soon as the coast is clear. Those keen survival instincts are one reason for the goose population explosion. There’s also plentiful food provided by farmers like Chad Jetvig, and lots of wetland nesting sites.
There are an estimated 2 million giant Canada geese in the upper Midwest and Northeast that’s far more than biologists like Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, goose expert, Steve Maxson think is ideal.
“I think a lot of biologists are wondering just how high this population can go. It’s already exceeded their wildest dreams I think and it seems even in the face of intense hunting pressure to be increasing in most areas. I guess the bottom line is we just don’t know how high this population can get.”
Biologists rely on hunting to keep many wildlife populations in check, and the Canada goose harvest has steadily increased along with the population. But Maxson says simply allowing hunters to shoot more birds is not the answer. The birds quickly learn how to avoid hunters. Then there’s the eastern prairie goose that nests in northern Canada and migrates through many states in the region. The eastern prairie goose population is much smaller and less robust than the giant Canada, and biologists fear expanded hunting could destroy the species.
The U-S Fish and Wildlife Service draft environmental impact statement due out this fall will offer several population control alternatives. They range from no action, to targeted hunting in areas where geese are in conflict with humans, to extreme measures such as, destroying nests and eggs. Steve Wilds is the Fish and Wildlife Service regional migratory bird and Chief. He says it’s critical a workable plan come out of this process. If not, he fears future management decisions will be political, not biological.
Wilds says the future of the giant Canada goose is at stake.
“So that they’ll continue to be recognized as a tremendous, beautiful part of our natural landscape and yet not something that’s going to be doing so much damage people start thinking of them as vermin rather than really neat critters.”
The Fish and Wildlife plans to take a public input on its goose management plan early next year. Steve Wild says it will be at least a year before any final decision is made on how the Canada goose populations will be managed in the future. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Dan Gunderson.