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Brad Dokken / Forum News Service, Published August 18 2013

M Hunting remains primary tool for managing geese numbers in North Dakota.

GRAND FORKS - North Dakota has opened its early Canada goose season in August since 2008, and despite bumping the bag limit to 15 last year from eight in previous years, the state Game and Fish Department says resident geese remain too abundant in most areas of the state.

The state’s early Canada goose season opened Thursday and continues through Sept. 15 everywhere except the Missouri River zone, which closes Sept. 7; the bag limit is 15 daily and 45 in possession.

According to Mike Szymanski, a waterfowl biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, North Dakota’s spring Canada goose season population stood at about 350,000 birds going into nesting season.

For perspective, that’s five times higher than the population in 2000, Szymanski said.

“It’s tough to keep up with them,” he said. “They have a really high survival rate, and they do pretty well reproductively.”

Still, Szymanski said, last year’s early season, with its higher bag limit took an estimated 71,000 Canada geese out of the population along with another 21,000 during the regular season.

Higher bag limits are attracting more hunters, he said. That could be even more significant this year, thanks to a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowing states to increase the possession limit to three times the daily limit.

The possession limit previously was twice the daily limit.

“Last year, our harvest was almost three times as high as it had been before we started the August take, and some of that is getting more participation, more hunters afield,” Szymanski said. “But the other part is the actual number of birds shot.”

Szymanski said the Game and Fish Department continues to issue special kill permits to landowners with ongoing depredation problems through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services branch. Farmers first contact the USDA for a site check, Szymanski said, and Game and Fish then can issue permits based on the federal agency’s recommendation.

Game and Fish issued about 225 permits last year, and this year appears to be on track for about the same number, Szymanski said. A permit allows farmers to kill 30 geese, but they can obtain an unlimited number of permits, he said.

Hunting remains the primary tool for managing populations on a broad scale.

“Our early Canada goose hunting opportunities and even the regular season, when we’re shooting tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of geese, that’s when you make the difference in populations,” Szymanski said. “The other stuff is just special control to alleviate local problems.”

This year’s late spring coupled with an April blizzard likely hampered production, and Szymanski said he was getting calls before the early season began from hunters saying they weren’t seeing geese.

Part of it, he says, could be the timing.

“Last year versus this year is just so different with last spring being so incredibly early and the geese did so well,” he said. “They were flying around in early August, and they were all grouped up and very visible. This year, they’re spread out a lot more because there’s more water, and they’re later, so there’s birds still getting on the wing, and they’re not grouped up.”

Dokken writes for the Grand Forks Herald