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Light Goose Dilemma

Despite increased harvests, populations of these Arctic-nesting geese continue to grow
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  • Light goose populations have soared in response to an abundance of agricultural foods on migration and wintering areas. Waterfowl researchers have documented the adverse effects that increasing numbers of feeding geese are having on fragile tundra habitats.
    photo by Dale Humburg, DU
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Impacts on Habitat and Other Wildlife

The effects of light goose overabundance were initially documented on breeding areas in the central and eastern Arctic and subarctic, but recent surveys indicate that population growth of lesser snow geese could also be occurring in the western Arctic at a similar pace. Although waterfowl managers believe existing breeding habitats can support light goose populations at current levels, the point at which continued population growth will exceed the capacity of the landscape to sustain the birds has yet to be determined. When traditional breeding habitats are degraded, light geese simply shift to different habitats or move to new areas where conditions are more favorable. No one knows how much potential breeding habitat exists in the Arctic and subarctic, or the proportion of current light goose breeding habitat that has been damaged or destroyed. In addition, more research is needed to determine light goose impacts on migration habitats during spring and fall. 

Biologists expect habitat degradation on Hudson and James bays to increase as midcontinent populations of lesser snow and Ross's geese continue to grow. In fact, as light goose numbers increase, their impact on habitat and other wildlife is expanding. Breeding and staging habitats used by light geese are important to millions of shorebirds, waterfowl, and other migratory birds. Research has revealed that habitat degradation by light geese has negatively impacted species as diverse as savannah sparrows, semipalmated sandpipers, brant, and Canada geese. Changes in abundance of amphibians and small mammals (lemmings and voles) as well as declines in spiders, beetles, and larval midges have also been documented in areas degraded by feeding light geese. 

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