Plan may take guesswork out of harvesting of geese


April 06, 1993|By PETER BAKER

In the fourth-floor corridor of the House of Delegates office building in Annapolis on Friday morning, there was a glimmer of hope that this fall's hunting season for migratory Canada geese could be expanded -- even if this summer's hatch is below average.

A few minutes earlier, Porter Hopkins and John Tieder, members of the Waterfowl Advisory Commission, had presented a rudimentary plan to a half-dozen members of the state legislature's Eastern Shore Delegation.

The shell of the proposal would create a tagging and check-in system for all goose hunters. The check-ins would provide an accurate, running count of the goose kill and allow the season to run until a predetermined number of birds had been taken.

That number would be 10 percent of this year's fall waterfowl count, whether the count numbered 280,000 or 350,000. But under no circumstances would Maryland's season exceed the parameters of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which will release its season framework in late July. DNR's recent proposal to have a fall goose season as short as 18 days is a potential death blow to the waterfowl industry on the Eastern Shore.

The Waterfowl Advisory Commission has no legal power, but its members have political clout, and Hopkins and Tieder had taken their cause to the Eastern Shore Delegation as informal emissaries of hunters and conservationists in the state.

Given the economic and political impact of the situation, the legislators were willing to listen.

"Our interest, naturally, is to get as long a season as we can because . . . it means money, tourists and what have you," Samuel Q. Johnson, chairman of the delegation, said in opening remarks. "At the same time, we respect [DNR's] judgment on the number of geese."

But the possibility of an 18-day season has scared some people on the Shore, Johnson said, and with the days of full moon and Sundays taken out, the season in effect could be in the "nothing zone."

At issue is the kill rate in Maryland. In the DNR's worst-case scenario, in an 18-day season as many as 28,000 could be killed, according to Wildlife Division director Joshua Sandt, who sat with Tieder and Hopkins before the delegation Friday morning.

Tieder, Hopkins and Jay Tarmon, president of the Maryland Waterfowl Outfitters Association, all doubt that many birds can be taken in those few days. The problem, they say, is that the kill rate in Maryland is unknown.

"We have had enough advice on what to do about waterfowl over the last four or five years among people who really do know and care about them to last a century," Hopkins said. "What seems to have been happening is a decline in the population through no fault of our own -- we are not shooting them, they are not breeding or for one reason or another we are not getting them [in Maryland each fall and winter]."

Tieder has been on the Waterfowl Advisory Commission for five years, and in that time has accumulated several file drawers full of statistical matter relating to migratory waterfowl. "I can honestly can tell you that I don't know if either one of them is

correct," Tieder said. "I don't think anyone can tell you. It is a best-guess scenario.

"And with biologists, as it should be, if they are going to err, they err on the conservative side. . . . However, I think we sometimes get too conservative."

In DNR's proposed minimal 18-day season, which would coincide with the full moon when geese feed heavily at night and needn't get up to travel to feed during hunting hours, Hopkins and Tieder figure there are 11 or 12 real hunting days.

"The idea was that we were going to kill 28,000 geese in 12 days with a one goose limit, which I think is simply impossible," Tieder said. "But I don't know that for a fact, because we don't know what we kill in Maryland."

Under the proposed tagging and check-in system, hunters would register their kills as deer and turkey hunters and spring trophy rockfish anglers do now. The system would give Maryland its own goose kill count, which could replace the current estimates that come from a quantified, random survey taken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We are managing geese with guesses," Tieder said. "This would be the first time that we would ever know the exact kill in Maryland."

Other states, notably Wisconsin, have used tag and check-in systems to gauge the kill rate and close the season once a limit has been reached, and Sandt said such a system might work in Maryland.

"We welcome anything that can help us improve our data collection . . . " Sandt said. "A tagging system, if it works -- and that is probably the key, if it works -- would be an ideal system.

"My fear is that when a hunter knows that he is going to get additional days if he doesn't tag his bird and check it, then that may increase his not reporting that bird."

Sandt said that a stronger law enforcement effort might be necessary to ensure proper tagging and checking of birds -- and that would require funds that DNR does not have on hand.

The printing of tags also would require additional funds, Sandt said, as would the additional check-in stations. For deer check-ins, stations receive 50 cents per deer. At 28,000 geese, the same fee would require $14,000 from DNR.

"You have to tag a bird in the field now, anyway . . . " Hopkins said. "If you have to legally have a tag on your bird, why not have an official tag with a number on it."

Johnson asked that Tieder's plan be put in writing and forwarded to the Eastern Shore Delegation, which would send it to DNR.

"Let's see if we can put this together," Johnson said, "and see if it will work."

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