OSAKIS, MINN. – Bob Mostad remembers when the first pair of Canada geese showed up on his farm in the late 1980s — when the goose population had rebounded after nearly going extinct in Minnesota.
“I was so proud,’’ Mostad, 87, recalled last week, looking out over his picturesque landscape of lush crops and wetlands. He has been farming near Osakis in west-central Minnesota for 60 years, and even mowed a strip of pasture near a pond he created to entice the geese to nest there. “I love wildlife, and I longed for the day when we could get them back.’’
That first pair produced five goslings.
“But pretty soon there were two pairs of geese, then a few more, and within five or six years I had a lot of geese,’’ Mostad said. “And they weren’t staying on the pasture, they were going out eating my corn and bean fields. They became a nuisance.’’
Mostad’s story is a microcosm of what has happened in Minnesota since a remnant of the giant Canada goose population was “discovered’’ in Rochester 50 years ago. Encouraged by landscape changes and the trapping and transplanting of geese to new areas, goose numbers exploded statewide, fouling beaches, golf courses and parks with excrement — and destroying acres of crops.
Since 1999, the Department of Natural Resources has issued permits to farmers to shoot problem geese, and helped pay for electric fences to deter geese from crops. The number of permits issued has grown from seven that first year to 234 last year, when landowners shot 1,288 geese. Another 2,000 geese are rounded up in the Twin Cities each summer, euthanized and distributed to food shelves or fed to captive wolves at the Wildlife Science Center near Forest Lake.
Hunters, too, have been urged to kill more geese. Bag limits and seasons have been expanded. Still, last year’s estimated goose population hit 433,000 — a record. So this year, for the first time, Minnesota will hold a special 11-day summer goose hunt Aug. 10-25, with an unprecedented 10-bird daily bag limit and no possession limit.
“This is one more option for us to try and increase our harvest of Canada geese,’’ said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. Last year, Minnesota hunters bagged nearly 236,000 honkers — more than any other waterfowl.
Nobody thinks adding the August hunt to the DNR’s menu of harvest strategies will dramatically reduce the goose population or end the clash between geese and humans.
“There’s no concern of taking too many geese anywhere, really,’’ Cordts said. “We’d have to have a massive change in harvest [to significantly reduce the population].”
Mostad, a lifelong hunter, doesn’t want to see geese eradicated from his land. In fact, though he gets permits from the DNR to shoot geese, he rarely kills more than one or two.
“They are a wonderful bird,’’ he said. “They mate for life. I hate to shoot them.’’
Like dozens of other farmers, Mostad has tried innovative methods to keep them away from crops — with minimal success.
“I’ve tried a lot of things. I put out swan decoys; they don’t like swans, and that discouraged them, but they didn’t take long to learn they were fake, and then they ignored them,’’ said Mostad. This spring about 37 adult geese showed up on his 20-acre wetland, so he bought two coyote decoys.
“That worked for a week or 10 days, and then they realized they were fake, too,’’ he said. “It’s amazing, they are so smart.’’
Shooting some seems to work best, Mostad said.
“I was able to shoot one with my .22 pistol at 110 yards,’’ he said. “I left it lay, and that did it. The whole works moved across the road into some state land and haven’t been back since.’’
Like Mostad, Kevin Lundebrek, 40, who farms near Starbuck, Minn., about 25 miles southwest of Mostad’s place, also was thrilled to see Canada geese return to the area years ago.
“We thought it was really nice when the first two landed in the slough,’’ he said, “until they started eating.’’
Corn generally is less of a problem, Lundebrek said, once it gets tall enough that geese can’t chew it down. But soybeans are another matter.
“They will mow ’em down all the way to the ground,’’ he said. He’s tried electric fencing. “They just go around it and eat.’’
This year, Lundebrek shot three geese.
“It helps keep them away for a little bit, so hopefully they won’t come back.’’
August hunt help?
Mostad and Lundebrek are under no illusion that the August hunt will solve their goose problems. For starters, the geese that hunters kill may not be geese responsible for crop depredations.
“It might be all right to try it, we have such a tremendous goose population,’’ Mostad said. But he expects the DNR will closely watch to ensure the goose population isn’t compromised.
Another concern, Mostad said, is that driving the geese from his property in the summer means they won’t likely return come fall’s hunting season. That’s unfortunate, because his son, Dennis, hunts waterfowl on the pond each fall. And Mostad said he won’t allow anyone to shoot geese in August over his pond, because that would scare ducks away, too, before the hunting season.
“It would ruin duck hunting here,’’ Dennis Mostad said, looking out over the pond last week.
The younger Mostad, who lives in Eden Prairie, said there’s simply too many geese, and he doesn’t believe the August hunt will significantly reduce their numbers or help reduce crop depredations.
“I don’t think it will touch the problem; I think it will only get worse.’’
But his dad is more forgiving. He created the 20-acre wetland on his land for wildlife, and still welcomes Canada geese — with limitations.
“I enjoy raising and seeing them,’’ he said. “A lot of farmers would like to wipe them out. If they just allow us to control them, we can live with them.’’
That’s a big change from 1953, when Mostad recalls bagging two then-rare Canada geese during hunting season.
“I got my picture in the Glenwood newspaper,’’ he said. “It was quite a feat in those days.’’