A welcome guest and a pest

Canada geese: Migratory hunting allowed after hiatus, residential goose season expanded.

August 28, 1999

A RESURGENCE in the numbers of migratory Canada geese over the past four years has prompted the state (and Atlantic region) to again open hunting season on the waterfowl that is our state bird.

The hunting hiatus allowed the closely monitored goose population to jump from 29,000 nesting pairs in 1995 to 77,500 pairs this year at their summer home on Quebec's Ungava Peninsula. Biologists say limiting hunters to shooting no more than 5 percent of the migrating population will allow the Canada goose numbers to continue to grow robustly. Maryland plans six days of Canada goose hunting in January.

Goose hunting was a $40 million annual business in Maryland in the 1980s. But over-hunting led to a moratorium in 1995.

The geese's rebound confirms the impact of hunting in the viability of the species. A ban can give target species a chance to recover natural equilibrium, like Maryland's declining rockfish, which were protected by a five-year fishing moratorium.

Naturalists are carefully watching the Canada goose, not only with aerial surveys of northern nesting grounds, but with banding more than 5,000 birds a year in Quebec and with satellite transmitters placed on North Atlantic geese.

While the migratory Canada goose is a welcome fall visitor, its brethren who take up year-round residence here are most unwelcome. Health hazards from fowl waste, crop damage and harm to other wildlife result from a Maryland resident goose population that now numbers more than 70,000 birds.

That's why the state is expanding the hunting season for resident geese to (parts of) four months. Maryland hunters bag 20,000 resident geese a year, but numbers continue to rise. A majestic symbol of Maryland, the Canada goose can be both guest and pest.

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