Migratory Canada goose reopener?


August 15, 1999|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

For decades, Maryland's Eastern Shore was the place to hunt Canada geese -- until the shooting was stopped in 1995 because hunting pressure had become too great and annual breeding populations had become too small.

And where once, within blinds strategically set near ponds and fields, booted and bundled hunters passed thermoses and flasks and anxious retrievers awaited the first shots on the crisp mornings of late autumn and early winter, there was prolonged silence.

Now, after four seasons of closure throughout the Atlantic Flyway, the governments of the United States and Canada have decided to allow tightly restricted hunting seasons on migratory Canada geese from Quebec to Virginia.

In Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, the proposed season is six days. Maryland will be limited to 12,000 birds, and hunters must apply for and receive special permits to participate.

The bag limit will be one bird per permit, and hunters will be required to tag and report birds harvested.

Maryland's proposed season -- Jan. 6-8 and 14-17, excluding Sundays -- could be submitted for approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after a public meeting at Easton High School on Aug. 23.

"The whole goal is to target only 35,000 birds throughout the flyway," said Jerry Serie, USFWS representative to the Atlantic Flyway Council. "And while that is a harvest rate of less than 5 percent of the fall flight, it will give us a chance to educate the birds and re-initiate the season."

The possible reopening of the season was triggered by sustained population growth over the past several years and a steady increase of breeding pairs in the Ungava region of northern Quebec from a low of 29,000 in 1995 to 77,500 this year.

Larry Hindman, waterfowl program manager for the Department of Natural Resources, said last week that population modeling suggests that the Atlantic population will continue to grow and increase rapidly after 2002, when goslings produced in 1997 and 1998 enter the breeding population.

"The population modeling we are using indicates the numbers are safe and recovery would continue," Hindman said. "There is a lot of conservatism built in, and we're pretty comfortable with it.

"But there is a lot of concern about Delmarva, where the geese are more vulnerable."

Maryland and the Chesapeake region are a goose hunter's heaven. Not only do more than 75 percent of the flyway's migratory Canadas winter here, but the topography is almost perfect and the hunters are skilled.

"If you look at the Eastern Shore from the air, for example, there are hundreds and hundreds of ponds that people use," said Hindman, who is an avid waterfowl hunter. "They put up blinds around them and set up the birds to be killed. People from elsewhere come here to learn how to hunt geese because Maryland hunters are very good at it."

Serie said states north of the Chesapeake region will be allowed a 15-day season with a one-bird limit and Canada will follow similar guidelines.

The flyway states south of Virginia will remain closed, he said, because goose numbers there are below acceptable levels.

Serie said Delaware has decided not to participate the limited season, preferring to hold off until longer seasons and larger bag limits are possible.

"I think the short, one-bird season is hard for people here after we have had such lucrative seasons in the past," said Serie, recalling Maryland's multiple-bird daily bag limits of the 1970s and 1980s. "But in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the high harvest in the Chesapeake region was a major contributor to the collapse of the Atlantic population.

"We want to be certain that doesn't happen again."

Robert A. Beyer, deputy director of DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Division, said the timing of the six-day season and the permit system are designed to keep close tabs on the harvest.

"The key to this working efficiently is law enforcement," said Beyer. "The only way we can be assured if we are at 12,000 birds or close to it is really by enforcement pressure -- and we have an agreement [with state and federal wildlife officers] to inundate the Shore in January.

"We looked at trying to get a three-day split in November, but we couldn't get the level of people we needed on the ground to make this work."

How the permit system will work, Beyer said, will depend on how many people apply. If, he said, there are 6,000 applicants, then it is possible each applicant could receive two permits.

"But if we have 20,000 applications, that means we would have to have a lottery drawing," Beyer said.

Applications for permits are expected to be handled through a 900 telephone number that would cost applicants between $3 and $5. DNR will announce details once the season has been set.

And Maryland officials said last week that there is a possibility Maryland could follow Delaware's lead and decline to participate.

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