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Light Goose Dilemma

Despite increased harvests, populations of these Arctic-nesting geese continue to grow
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By Dale D. Humburg

Since the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was signed in 1918, the main objective of North America's waterfowl management community has been to maintain or increase duck and goose populations. In recent decades, however, waterfowl managers have faced a new challenge as populations of lesser snow, greater snow, and Ross's geese—collectively known as light geese—have soared to alarmingly high levels. 

In 1997, Ducks Unlimited was instrumental in producing the report Arctic Ecosystems in Peril, which documented the widespread degradation of coastal salt marsh habitat in Canada's Hudson Bay Lowlands by growing numbers of lesser snow geese. When this report was released, habitat along 700 miles of coastline from southern James Bay to the west coast of Hudson Bay—encompassing more than 130,000 acres—had already been destroyed and a similar-sized area had been severely degraded. In addition, lesser snow geese had also begun to damage adjacent freshwater habitats as the birds expanded their staging areas in search of food. In following years, impacts from ever-increasing numbers of light geese have claimed even more coastal salt marsh and freshwater habitat along James and Hudson bays. 

In an effort to save these fragile habitats, waterfowl managers acted decisively during the late 1990s to increase light goose harvests in hopes of reducing the birds' populations. In the United States, the Light Goose Conservation Order significantly liberalized harvest regulations, eliminating daily bag limits in most states and allowing hunting after March 10. It also allowed the use of electronic calls and unplugged shotguns, and permitted shooting until one-half hour after sunset. Spring conservation seasons for lesser and greater snow geese were likewise implemented in Canada, along with greatly liberalized regulations during general waterfowl seasons in both countries. Although these actions have succeeded in doubling harvests continentally, they have failed to check either the growth of many light goose populations or the subsequent adverse effects on the birds' habitats.

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