Alberta’s First Spring Goose Hunt

In January, the Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) announced its first spring Snow Goose and Ross’s Goose hunt. The provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba have had spring goose hunts since 1999.

The current Snow Goose population in Canada is about one million birds, which is about twice the number scientists believe the Arctic nesting grounds can support.

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The new hunt will attempt to deal with overpopulation that could devastate the arctic breeding grounds. The degradation of the breeding grounds would affect all wildlife, not just geese, that depend on that habitat. Environment Canada’s 2013 Bird Conservation Strategy for Bird Conservation Region 7 Prairie and Northern Region: Taiga Shield and Hudson Plains notes,

Ecosystems within BCR 7-PNR, particularly in the coastal regions, but more recently in the tundra areas of the Hudson Plains, are under high pressure from a large overabundance of Lesser Snow Geese and rapidly growing populations of Ross’s Geese. A special publication from the Arctic Goose Joint Venture (Leafloor et al. 2012) is a current and expansive review of the situation and conservation options for dealing with this issue. Lesser Snow Goose populations have increased at a remarkable rate, up to 7% per year from the early 1960s to the mid-1990s, due primarily to the agricultural food resources available throughout their migratory routes and on their wintering grounds (Abraham et al. 2005). The abundance of these herbivores on breeding areas in BCR 7-PNR is causing loss or degradation of habitat for a variety of other bird species, and may, over time, cause changes in bird communities in the affected habitats. For example, Savannah Sparrows and their grass/shrub habitat showed large declines, up to 77%, over a 25-year period from 1976 to 2001 in an area adjacent to coastal salt marshes in northern Manitoba (Rockwell et al. 2003). This is attributed to destructive foraging by snow geese causing changes in the properties of the soil, and erosion of the unvegetated soils resulting in potentially irreversible changes (Jefferies et al. 2006). Decreasing Snow and Ross’s Goose numbers will likely require large-scale, intensive management efforts since recent evidence suggests that increased bag limits and the special conservation season (spring hunt) are not curtailing population growth as much as expected (Leafloor et al. 2012).

The spring hunt season this year will run from March 15th to June 15th. The daily bag limit will be 50 geese total (Snow and/or Ross’s), but there will be no possession limit.

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Some Albertans are concerned that hunters might accidentally shoot swans instead of geese. Many hunters are very good at identifying geese from swans, so I don’t think this hunt will be much different from the annual fall hunt.

For reference, Snow Geese can be identified by black wing tips and a short neck. Swans and much larger and have entirely white wings and a long neck. This goose/swan ID comparison from the ESRD website,

ESRDgeese:swanID

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