Doug Smith: As Canada geese flourish, options to thin flock grow limited

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 25, 2012 - 11:31 PM

An August hunting season is being considered, but it's possible hunters don't want more geese.

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The Canada goose population in Minnesota is estimated at 434,000, the highest number since counting by helicopter was begun 12 years ago. That’s despite 25 years of liberal hunting regulations and bag limits.

Photo: Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune

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Minnesota might join North Dakota and South Dakota and open Canada goose hunting in August next year, perhaps with a 15-bird bag limit.

The early season and dramatically larger limit would be yet a further attempt to thin the ranks of the big birds, whose numbers here continue to grow despite 25 years of liberal hunting regulations and bag limits.

"We're running out of options," Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said. "I don't know what else we can do."

The special hunt likely would be held in the west-central region, where crop depredation from geese is highest.

South Dakota's hunt, which runs Aug. 4-26, offers a 15-bird daily bag limit with no possession limit. North Dakota has a 15-bird daily bag, with a 30-bird possession limit for its hunt, which extends from Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, except near the Missouri River.

A recent DNR goose survey estimated Minnesota's statewide population at almost 434,000 -- the most since the helicopter count began 12 years ago.

Goose depredation complaints are up this year, and the DNR has issued about 200 permits allowing landowners to kill problem geese. Officials haven't tallied how many geese have been killed, but it's likely fewer than 2,000.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would have to approve the special action -- technically not called a "hunt" -- but is likely would do so.

The Minnesota proposal will be taken to public input meetings this winter, said Dennis Simon, DNR wildlife chief. "This would be a fairly significant change in the way we manage Canada geese," he said.

Another option is to increase the five-bird daily bag limit during the September hunt. The DNR already has eliminated goose zones, increased the regular-season daily bag limit to three birds, and offers the maximum 107 days of hunting allowed by federal law.

The question -- literally -- is how much of an appetite hunters have for geese.

"How many geese can a person eat?" asked Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. "We have kept the population fairly stable. If we wanted to reduce it, I don't know that we can do it via the gun."

Minnesota's estimated 55,000 goose hunters killed about 240,000 Canada geese last year -- more than any other waterfowl. That includes about 124,000 geese during the 21-day September hunt. The DNR sold about 34,000 $4 September goose permits but figured 26,000 people actually hunted.

But boosting bag limits might not have much impact on the population. "The average hunter only shoots about four geese during the September season," Cordts said.

Simon said officials don't know if offering an August hunt will simply shift some of the September goose harvest to August, without increasing overall harvest.

Weather and habitat conditions have a bigger impact on goose populations than hunting, Cordts said.

"We've generally had wet conditions in recent years, but if we got dry for a couple years in a row, I'm sure our goose population would decline some," he said.

Meanwhile, hunters should find plenty of Canada geese this year. The September season opens Saturday.

"I think it will be very good this fall," Cordts said.

The early season runs Sept. 1-21. The regular goose season then coincides with the duck season beginning Sept. 22 in each of the state's three duck zones: Sept.22-Dec.16 in the north, Sept. 22-30 and Oct. 6-Dec. 21 in the central, and Sept. 22-30 and Oct. 13-Dec. 28 in the south.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com

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