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Good Times For Geese Turning Into Bad News

Biologists say a crisis is brewing because of rapidly growing geese populations.

U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has described the snow goose population as “totally out of control.” He has said it could lead to catastrophe for the snow geese and for other wildlife that depend on the arctic habitat where snow geese nest.

Snow goose numbers on the prairies have nearly tripled since the 1960s, and the birds are beating some of their arctic nesting grounds to death. Snows tend to congregate more densely than other species, and their numbers are so great that they are stripping the land of its ability to feed them.

John Cornerly, regional migratory bird coordinator of the mountain and prairie region for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said that in the Central Flyway alone there are at least 11.5 million snow geese and Ross’ geese, which have a similar appearance.

“One of our concerns is that snow geese are affecting other species,” Cornerly said. “If it were just snow geese … we would say, ‘Well, they’re going to crash eventually.’ But one of our concerns is their effect on other geese, on shorebirds and on other wildlife that use that (arctic) habitat.”

Dave Duncan, population management biologist for the Canadian Wildlife Service in Edmonton, Alberta, says populations of white fronts, Ross’ geese and greater and lesser snow geese all are skyrocketing.


“Our best thinking is changes in agriculture on the landscape,” he said. “The birds have a readily available, abundant food source - rice on the wintering grounds, grains right across their migration route. They’re better fed and surviving better than they ever have historically.”

The Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group, created in 1996 to study the population problem and recommend solutions, has proposed additional hunting, including spring hunts; liberalized hunting methods; increased hunting on state and federal refuges; and liberalized bag and possession limits.

But, being told you can shoot more geese and shooting them are different things. The geese themselves have some control of that.