Large Canada Geese in the Central Flyway: Management of Depredation, Nuisance and Human Health and Safety Issues

Prepared for

The Central Flyway Council

24 March 2000

written by

P. Joseph Gabig
Natural Resource Consulting

Funding for this project was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 6, Denver, Colorado (Ref No. 601819Q616).

Executive Summary

The Central Flyway is an administrative unit for migratory game bird management. It is comprised of ten states (MT, WY, CO, NM, TX, OK, KS, NE, SD & ND), two Canadian Provinces (Saskatchewan & Alberta), the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The Central Flyway Council, established in 1948, is an advisory body to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and assists the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) in matters regarding migratory game birds.

In cooperation with the USFWS and the CWS, the Central Flyway (Flyway) manages five populations of Canada geese. Two of these (the Tall Grass Prairie and Short Grass Prairie populations) breed in the Arctic and are comprised of small races of birds and are beyond the scope of this document. They are, however, an important consideration in the management of large Canada geese. The three populations of Canada geese comprised of large races that are the primary subject of this document are the Hi-Line, the Western Prairie and the Great Plains populations. In addition, some information about the Rocky Mountain Population is included. These populations are distinguished from one another by their geographical distribution in the summer and winter as well as their racial makeup.

The Flyway has adopted management plans for each of these populations Each of these has a similar Goal: Maximum recreational opportunity consistent with the welfare of the population, international treaties, habitat constraints and the interests of all Central Flyway provinces and states." The plans contain population objectives and estimates of population size are obtained annually, most often by winter counts.

All populations of Canada geese in the Central Flyway are above objective levels. This was achieved through careful and coordinated management decisions made over many decades. At the Flyway level, the primary action that contributed to this achievement was facilitating coordinated implementation of hunting regulations geared toward keeping mortality at an appropriate level. At the state and provincial level, many activities were undertaken to increase the population size including the release of captive-reared goslings, the release of adults and the implementation of special hunting regulations. More than 120,000 geese were handled for restoration purposes between 1960-99 in the Flyway.

The 1997-99 average winter count of total Canada geese in the Central Flyway was 1.5 million birds, up from about 206,000 in the 1960's. Of the 1.5 million, about 620,000 were from the three populations of primary interest in this document. This is about 60% above objective levels.

Along with these successes comes a new set of problems. As both total and local populations of geese have grown, so has the frequency of interactions between geese and people. Some of these interactions such as the sharing of city parks, housing developments, airports and agricultural crops are not welcomed by some humans. All jurisdictions in the Flyway, including federal agencies, have been working on preventing and/or alleviating these problems for over a decade using many tools. Some of the limited number of tools provide a higher success rate than others. Some are considerably easier than others for a local jurisdiction to implement in an expeditious, effective, socially acceptable manner. Constraints have been traditionally placed on actions by state and provinces by their respective federal agencies as well as society.

As a partial response to possibly reducing some of these constraints, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in August 1999, announced its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Resident Canada Geese. This document provides the necessary background and current data about Central Flyway resident Canada geese to satisfy a request from the USFWS for assistance in the preparation of the EIS.

The Goal of the Central Flyway specified in this document is:

Manage resident Canada geese in the Central Flyway to achieve maximum benefits from these birds while minimizing conflicts between geese and humans.

In preparation for discussion of objectives and associated strategies to address growing populations of resident Canada geese, a history of restoration efforts, population changes, harvest, problems caused and problem resolution activities is presented. The document is intended to be a summary but much detailed information is presented in appendices. An important section is a summary of information on a state by state or province basis.

Five objectives are identified, each with a set of strategies the Central Flyway believes will assist in meeting them. They are:

1. Ensure that the positive values associated with resident Canada geese are maximized.

2. Implement control methods directed at problem resolution and/or goose population reduction that are socially and biologically acceptable, site-specific, efficient and effective.

3. Implement public awareness campaigns and cooperative programs to maximize the effectiveness of preventative and problem resolution methods..

4. Monitor goose populations, the number and type of problems they cause, attempts to solve those problems and the social acceptance of management actions.

5. Establish mechanisms for evaluation of objectives and strategies.

An Action Matrix is provided that identifies current and potential actions that would lead to problem abatement. Each action is defined and associated with an assessment of social acceptance and effectiveness.

Finally, a philosophy about the future, a data needs section and literature references are included.

While this document is designed to address problems caused by Canada geese as they affect humans, their property and, in some cases, their safety, it is in no way intended to reduce the high value the Central Flyway places on this renewable resource. Canada geese are part of the larger natural community the Flyway seeks to conserve. Beyond that, they provide an immense and increasing amount of recreation to citizens of the Flyway, from the Queen Maude Gulf in the Northwest Territories to Brownsville, Texas. And the Central Flyway is committed to the conservation of that recreation.