DNR proposes shorter season for Canada geese Seeks 30-day limit to help rebuild stock

August 13, 1993|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,Staff Writer

Maryland officials, concerned that the state's population of migrant Canada geese decreased to its lowest level in 30 years last winter, yesterday suggested a plan to cut this fall's hunting season to 30 days as part of a continuing effort to rebuild the flock.

The Department of Natural Resources' proposal, which still may be altered before it is submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for final approval, would allow hunting through only half of the days possible under federal guidelines.

The daily bag limit will be one bird throughout the season. Last year, there were 20 days at one bird and 40 days at two.

Del. R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., said last night that he plans to press for compromise at a series of public hearings later this month and will ask Governor Schaefer to support a longer season.

"The federal government allows up to 60 days and up to two birds," Mitchell said. "I want to preserve the birds, too. But I think we must see if there is not a compromise that can be reached."

Joshua Sandt, director of the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division, said the shortened goose season is necessary even though this year's population of Canada geese should be significantly larger than last year's mid-winter count of 234,000.

The low count last winter was due largely to a complete bust on the nesting grounds because of a late thaw in northern Quebec last spring and summer. It was the sixth consecutive below-average hatch.

Based on the good weather conditions during a nesting pairs survey in June, this year's hatch should be better than average, but Sandt said it will not be good enough to offset the string of poor years.

"If we took the framework that the Fish and Wildlife Service has given us -- a 60-day season similar to what we had last year -- our projection then would be that we definitely would see a decline in the population," Sandt said.

Poor reproduction causes an excessive kill of adult geese by hunters and further limits the breeding capacity of the Atlantic Flyway population. DNR's survey of geese killed last season showed that 100 adult birds were killed for every six juveniles taken.

Maryland wants to rebuild its population of Canada geese to 400,000 at the mid-winter count, and the primary management tool is to limit hunting days and bag limits.

DNR's goal is to cut the kill rate from an average of 23 percent of the population to 14 percent. In March, DNR said it wanted to cut the harvest rate to 10 percent and was considering cutting the season to 18 days.

"The 10 percent harvest we projected in March would have gotten us back to 400,000 in four or five years," Sandt said.

"With the 14 percent we are only a year or so behind that. So we feel that this is a smart move to make because we can add a few more days of recreation . . . ."

Mitchell, who has been pushing for a 45-day season with 1-2 split bag limit, said in a paper prepared after DNR's proposal in March that the chopping of the goose season is "tantamount to boarding up an already beleaguered industry -- an industry whose annual economic yield already has fallen from an estimated $70 million five years ago to $30 million last year and to only an estimated $10 million next year with a one-bird limit."

Undoubtedly the shortened season will have an adverse impact on the Eastern Shore, where landowners maintain and develop good habitat and then rent their lands to guides.

"This will devastate us," said Ray Marshall, a long-time Eastern Shore waterfowl guide. "You can't give a one-goose hunt away anywhere.

"You certainly can't justify the expense of brushing blinds, repairing blinds and getting together the boats, motors and all the stuff you need to do this with."

Landowners, guide services, picking houses, restaurants, motels, sporting goods stores and so on also will feel the crunch. But Sandt said DNR's first responsibility is to rebuild the goose flock by controlling the hunt.

Some guides, including Marshall, have diversified over the years and can supplement their incomes with duck or deer hunting trips.

But, said Marshall, the landowners in Queen Anne's and Kent counties might take a triple beating this year.

"In those counties, there are mostly family farms," Marshall said. "They already have been hit hard by the drought and many will lose their corn crop. Now they probably will lose their shooting fees.

"And to make it worse still, if they roll the land over into winter wheat to try to recover, the geese will get in it and tear that up, too. And what are you going to do then? You can't shoot them."

Maryland's Eastern Shore is the wintering ground for the largest portion of the Atlantic Flyway population of Canada geese, Sandt said, and as such the state must play a major role in the restoration of the flyway population.

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