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Doug Leier, Published July 24 2012

Leier: Influx in Canada geese means longer hunting season, larger limit


When North Dakota’s early Canada goose season starts Aug. 15, hunters who find themselves in the right situation will likely have a limit of 15 birds a day, up from eight last year and five in 2010.

This is a remarkable development for someone like me who grew up and started hunting in the 1980s – when the state had established zones where the shooting of Canada geese was prohibited – and outside those zones the limit for much of the season was one Canada goose per day.

The State Game and Fish Department is well aware of the issues with geese eating primarily row crops planted near wetlands, grazing on lawns near waterways, and leaving droppings behind on golf course greens and other public areas.

For more than a decade, Game and Fish has lobbied the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for more days to hunt resident Canada geese in late summer, when hunters’ effort can target birds that are born and raised in the state. The higher limit this fall, and the opportunity to start the season in August, is a direct result of that input.

In addition, since 2002 special permits have provided landowners the option to directly kill or destroy nests of birds causing depredation in early spring and summer.

Even before that, Game and Fish suspended relocation efforts and removed goose hunting closure zones. But due to an unprecedented wet cycle that created near-perfect habitat conditions, the population continued to increase until 1999, when the state held its first early Canada goose season in two counties in southeastern North Dakota.

North Dakota hunters and landowners had an integral role in restoring these birds to the point where they could be hunted at all.

From a flock of giant Canada geese established at Slade National Wildlife Refuge near Dawson in Kidder County in 1969, to large-scale releases of hand-reared geese starting in 1972, North Dakota has seen steady increases, and these magnificent birds now nest throughout the state.

By 1988, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service annual spring waterfowl survey indicated about 18,000 resident Canada geese. By 1993, the population estimate was 20,000.

Then the wet cycle started, and all of us relearned the value of good habitat. With water occupying many wetland basins in the state for going on 20 years now, the 2012 spring count topped 309,000 resident Canada geese.

Game and Fish has always had the philosophy that increased hunter opportunity should be the primary method of goose population management. There is also a place for agricultural producers to harass or even directly kill geese that are eating crops.

While hunting waterfowl in August is often hot, humid and buggy – almost the exact opposite of a crisp, dry October morning – it’s still something to look forward to, and the prospects might never be better.

Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at dleier@nd.gov

Leier’s blog can be found online

at www.areavoices.com