Goose hunting under gun in Md.

OUTDOORS

March 07, 1993|By PETER BAKER

A couple of weeks ago, at a Department of Natural Resources workshop held to discuss proposed hunting seasons for 1993-94, the subject of goose hunting came up.

At the time, the reporters in attendance were speculating that the fall and winter season could be as short as 30 days with a

one-bird daily limit throughout.

DNR's decision on Friday to seek a season on migratory Canada geese as short as 18 days, caught a lot of people by surprise. And the cry has gone up that this is the end of the goose hunting industry on the Eastern Shore.

If the season goes in at a minimum of 18 days or a maximum of days, with a one-bird daily limit, it certainly will be the end for a time.

People will not pay outfitters, outfitters will not pay guides and the goose industry, already fragile after four years of restrictive seasons, will crumble further.

The question is whether a longer season now would make a more restrictive one necessary a few years down the road.

One goose. Eighteen days.

It just doesn't seem right.

"It is a death blow to the whole Eastern Shore," John Kostick, a longtime guide in Kent County, said Friday. "Goose hunting is done."

But if the choice were between the current proposal and a moratorium in the near future, which would you choose?

My choice would be for the shorter season now in the hope that the geese will rebuild a declining population and the season again could be extended to 60 or more days.

As DNR biologists explain the situation, there really seems to be no other choice.

After eight years of below-average reproduction on the breeding grounds in northern Quebec, there are too few juvenile birds in the annual migration in the Atlantic Flyway.

Without the juvenile birds, the hunting pressure falls on the birds that are old enough to breed. In the past two seasons, more than 90 percent of the geese killed were breeders.

Without breeders, the goose population cannot rebuild.

But it is not only hunters who are hindering reproduction. Late snow melts on the Ungava Peninsula have delayed nesting the past few years, and last year snow cover lasted until late June, about a month longer than normal.

And perhaps herein lies the part of the problem that cannot be solved by human intervention: game managers can control the goose population from this end by shortening the season, but they cannot change the weather.

The midwinter survey, which is taken each year after the close of the goose season, showed 234,400 Canada geese, the fewest on record since 1963.

Several years ago, Maryland set a target population for Canada geese at 400,000. Reaching that figure could trigger a return to a 60-day season with larger bag limits.

But before the current proposal was announced, the kill rate was accepted at 20 percent. This proposal cuts the acceptable kill rate to 10 percent.

With 19 percent reproduction and the 10 percent kill rate, Josh Sandt, director of DNR's Wildlife Division, said Friday that Maryland would reach the 400,000 trigger figure in five years. A 15 percent kill rate coupled with average reproduction would reach the trigger in 10 years.

"But that is with poor reproduction," Sandt said. "Hopefully we are going to have some good years in the next two or three years . . . If we had a good reproductive season this year and followed it up with a good one next year, we could probably go back to a 60-day season. But this current proposal is based on a worst-case scenario."

In North Carolina a few years ago, the possibility of the worst-case scenario was ignored. North Carolina has not had a ** hunting season for migratory Canada geese in five years.

The concern among biologists is that if Maryland fails to curtail its kill of geese now, it, too, eventually might have to close the season.

"One of the things I think people don't understand is that there are distinct populations of birds all up and down the Atlantic Flyway," Sandt said. "The Chesapeake population is a distinct subset of the Atlantic Flyway population."

Before a recent neck-collar study of migrant Canada geese proved otherwise, the thinking was that the geese moved freely up and down the coast.

"North Carolina didn't realize that at the time and they kept their season structure going," Sandt said. "The population was increasing north of there, but they kept shooting their birds until they virtually had no birds left."

At this time, Sandt said, Maryland has not set a population figure at which it might have to close down its migratory goose season.

"What is our bottom line?" Sandt asked. "When we get down to 100,000 birds, should that trigger closure of the season? We don't yet know. But we are discussing it."

For Kostick and other guides, the feeling now is that the season might as well be closed.

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