Canada goose plan likely to get OK

OUTDOORS

February 28, 1993|By PETER BAKER

Last week, Maryland's proposal for a September hunting season for resident Canada geese was taken to the technical committee of the Atlantic Flyway Council. With the framework already in place, it is likely that the season will be acceptable to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Opposition to the limited season then would have to come from people in Maryland, hunters and anti-hunters alike.

So, several questions arise:

* Will a season on resident birds have an impact on the population of migratory Canada geese, which has been decreasing for several years?

* Can a September season control the increasing population of resident Canada geese?

* Is a season necessary?

Before any of the three questions may be answered, first something must be known of the problem and its origin.

Resident Canada geese in Maryland are primarily descendants of the giant and western Canada geese, which were kept as live decoy flocks in the 1900s or have been purchased since under permit by landowners.

Through the years, as these birds reproduced, the young were allowed to fly free without the instinct to migrate. They have become, in effect, a subspecies.

According to Department of Natural Resources survey data, there are now some 15,000 resident Canada geese in Maryland. Roughly half of those birds reside west of the Chesapeake Bay, with a large percentage concentrated in suburban areas.

Only the 14 counties west of Chesapeake Bay have been targeted for a September season, and the hunting dates (Sept. 7-15) are in advance of the arrival of migrant birds from Canada.

"We think this is going to be a clean season," said Larry Hindman, head of Maryland's waterfowl program. "We don't expect to have any migrants in Maryland at this time. . . The earliest arrival of migrants, based on information from the national wildlife refuges on the Eastern Shore is Sept. 16.

"But the last two years we have recorded neck-band observations throughout [the 14 counties] and essentially all the [banded] birds that our people observed were neck-banded in Maryland as summer residents."

DNR estimates the harvest may number only 500 birds, even with a bag limit of five per day. The primary reason for this is that the resident birds live on lands that offer limited access to hunters.

"Where you are going to be able to access these birds is along portions of the Potomac River and its tributaries, in pastures and farm ponds or in and around some of the reservoirs," Hindman said.

"The crops are not going to be harvested, so it is not going to be like hunting migrant birds. It is going to require hunters to do quite a bit of scouting."

So, with such a small kill, the September season will not stop the population from expanding, but it will slow it and perhaps eliminate some of the nuisance and crop depredation complaints that USDA Animal Damage Control officer Les Terry deals with.

Terry said that complaints in Maryland have increased threefold since 1990, "and we are running out of ways to deal with these things."

Harassment, or chasing off the birds, is a temporary solution.

Habitat modification -- building fences along waterfronts, or otherwise obstructing access to prime rest or nest areas -- is expensive.

"Hunting, where possible," Terry said, "is a very good tool."

But is it necessary? Can't the birds be trapped and transported elsewhere?

Terry said that the USDA recommends a move of 500 miles, which quickly becomes a large expense. Hindman said that previous transports of birds within the state simply have moved the problem from one area to another.

The most common problems caused by resident birds are crop depredation; geese picking a backyard as a nesting site and the swimming pool as their water source; a handful of geese dirtying the backyards in some neighborhoods; geese crossing roads and causing collisions among motorists; aggressive geese attacking golfers during the nesting season.

And while a sport in knickers and spiked shoes fleeing before the charge of an outraged goose is almost comical, there are some real problems at hand.

Terry said that the water supplies of small cities or towns may be at risk if too many geese settle in.

"City sewage treatment ponds that have too many birds on them," Terry said, "sometimes have the chloroform counts get too high, and the city is then cited as violating their permits."

Terry listed Sudlersville as a recent example, and noted that causing physical harm or destroying the eggs of waterfowl is a federal offense under most conditions.

So, how does one go about controlling such a population at a reasonable cost? You have a limited season and hope that a minimal kill slows population growth and maximum disruption sends the birds elsewhere.

Hindman said that New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, New York, Massachusetts and Georgia either already have seasons for resident birds or have submitted proposals similar to Maryland's.

Hindman said that he expects the proposal to be met with resistance, but that if people will take the time to look at the problem and the various solutions, a September season makes the most sense.

"We have a different type of Canada goose here that breeds in the state and is increasing, and a migrant population that is in decline," Hindman said.

"Where we proposed the hunting areas on the western shore is basically in the area that most of the resident birds occur, whereas the prime wintering area for migrant birds is on the Eastern Shore."

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