Imperiled Canada Geese

November 13, 1993

Maryland's goose hunting season opens Nov. 22 in a test of man's ability to predict nature's fickle course and to effectively husband this magnificent natural resource.

The Canada goose season is longer and has a higher bag limit than state wildlife managers believe is advisable, following eight below-average reproduction seasons in Quebec's nesting grounds and the lowest head count in 30 years. In recent seasons, 95 percent of the kill have been adult geese needed for breeding and population recovery.

The ailing Upper Shore hunting industry, and its chief advocate, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., prevailed in getting the more liberal season: 35 days, with a two-goose bag limit for nearly half that period. The survival of the $20 million winter hunting-tourist industry demanded no less, they argued.

What's good for the field owners, guides and the tourism industry this year is not good for maintaining the Canada geese winter population in Maryland, however. The midwinter geese count was 234,000 last season, against a goal of 400,000 birds (down from 600,000 in 1981). With a 35-day hunting season, experts predict it will take nearly a decade for the flocks to recover to that goal.

Maryland waterfowl experts proposed an 18-day season last March, then raised it to a 30-day proposal in response to complaints and to reports of an above-average hatch in northern Quebec this spring. Political pressure, not conservation judgments, ratcheted the season up to 35 days, the two-bird limit intentionally added to attract out-of-state hunters and their dollars.

The economic impact of the Maryland waterfowl hunting industry is waning; it's a third of what it was a decade earlier. Imprudent decisions on goose hunting this season will only tighten the acceptable limits next season, if the population is to rebound to sustainable levels.

Certainly, nature may provide respite, with abundant hatchlings and winter weather that reduces man's harvest of these migratory fowl. But that is no excuse for authorities to bend to political compromise against conservation principles and convictions, for the birds belong to us all. The majestic skeins of Canada geese are enjoyed by many more Marylanders who never take aim with a gun. The quarrel is not with hunting but with those who would imperil this priceless winter denizen.

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