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States to receive authority over burgeoning resident Canada goose populations:

In November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced plans to give certain states and their residents control of growing populations of resident Canada geese, reports the Wildlife Management Institute. Expected to take effect within a month, the guidelines apply only to geese that live permanently in the United States.

Most Canada geese are migratory, wintering in the lower 48 states and migrating to summer breeding grounds in Alaska or Canada. However, resident Canada geese generally stay in the same area or migrate only short distances. Their soaring numbers have been attributed to a number of factors. Suitable habitat in temperate climates has resulted in relatively stable breeding conditions. Areas with short grass, such as mowed lawns, parks, golf courses and large industrial complexes with or near ponds, common in urban and suburban areas, are havens. Also, resident Canada geese tolerate human and other disturbances, and the relative absence of predation and prohibition of waterfowl hunting provide additional protection and enables proliferation.

Weighing as much as 24 pounds, these geese are designated pests. Their accumulated droppings can become offensive. The birds also can damage landscaping and agricultural crops, and pose a hazard at airports.

In response to widespread concern about overabundant populations of resident Canada geese, FWS, the federal agency with jurisdiction over the birds, has studied the problem since 2002. FWS Director, Dale Hall stated, “Resident Canada geese populations have increased dramatically over the past 15 years. These high population levels have been shown to cause problems for natural and economic resources, and we believe increased local management with national oversight is the best approach to reduce conflicts and bring the population under control.”

Over the last decade and despite efforts to control them, the resident Canada goose population in the Atlantic flyway has increased an average of 1 percent per year to more than 1 million birds. The Mississippi flyway has seen an annual growth of 5 percent to 1.6 million birds. “The population of resident Canada geese in the United States has grown from a few thousand a few decades ago to around 3.2 million today” said Steve Williams, President of the Wildlife Management Institute and former FWS Director. The goal of the new plan is to reduce the resident birds’ numbers nationwide to around 2 million by 2015.

Congressional support came earlier this year when the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was amended to exclude resident species from its protections. “Resident Canada geese are at unhealthy population levels and their numbers are growing,” said U.S. Representative H. James Saxton, who sits on the House committee that oversees the FWS and who pushed in Congress for the changes.

On November 19, FWS issued the final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that outlines several alternatives to reduce, manage, and control the populations and reduce the related damages. The proposed action would transfer authority over goose-control issues to states in the Atlantic, Central and Mississippi flyways to allow state wildlife agencies, landowners, and airports more flexibility in controlling resident Canada goose populations. FWS’s preferred alternative in this FEIS consists of three main program components.

The first component creates four specific control and depredation orders for airports, landowners, agricultural producers and public health officials. These orders would be targeted to address resident Canada goose depredation, damage and conflict management. Many control measures already have been available to states, but they have had to seek federal permission to use them in most cases¾a potentially cumbersome process. Currently, FWS must issue a federal permit to a state or tribal wildlife agency attempting to control resident Canada geese damaging public resources such as waterways, fields and parks. Under the new rule, the agency could then byp [no swearing please] the permit process (provided certain reporting and monitoring requirements were fulfilled), allowing communities greater ability to addle eggs, destroy nests and kill geese without FWS special approval.

The second component consists of expanded hunting methods and opportunities and would increase the recreational hunting harvest of resident Canada geese. Under this rule, states would have the option to expand shooting hours and give hunters more leeway, including allowing them to use electronic calls and unplugged shotguns.

The third component would authorize a resident Canada goose population control program, or Management Take. Management Take would allow states to establish an August harvest of resident Canada geese, when the migratory birds have not arrived from their breeding grounds in Alaska and Canada.

The new rules would permit more time and the use of more efficient techniques to reduce numbers of resident Canada geese nationwide. Representative Saxton applauded the new rules. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided states like New Jersey with expanded tools to take action to prevent further damage to our region.”

However, not all rules would apply throughout the country. States with fewer issues with resident geese, such as those in the Pacific flyway, would be exempt from the agricultural depredation order, the expanded hunting opportunity and the Management Take component of the FEIS.

Following the 30-day review period, FWS will decide whether to implement the action and will inform the public of the decision by issuing a Record of Decision. FWS then will make public the final regulation, or rule, if it chooses to implement the EIS Proposed Action. If the new approach is adopted and brings resident goose populations under control, FWS reportedly would suspend the rule. The FEIS is available at http://migratorybirds.fws.gov/. (cdw)
 
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