|New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife|
October 18, 2001
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has scheduled a series of public meetings across the country to discuss a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) that will establish a national management strategy for controlling over abundant light goose (greater and lesser snow and Ross' goose) populations. The meetings will be held to gather public comments and to discuss the management options evaluated in the EIS, as the Service seeks to halt ongoing destruction of arctic breeding grounds caused by exploding light goose populations.
In New Jersey, the public hearing will be held in Egg Harbor Township on November 29 at 7 p.m. in the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center, 6821 Black Horse Pike.
"Breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic used by dozens of migratory bird species that winter in or migrate through the U.S. are in jeopardy, degraded and stripped of vegetation by populations of light geese that exceed the lands' ability to support them. I urge the public to comment on the draft EIS as we develop a strategy to bring light goose populations down to sustainable levels," said Tom Melius, Assistant Director for Migratory Birds and State Programs.
The draft EIS evaluates a range of alternatives in relation to their ability to reduce and stabilize light goose populations and prevent further degradation of habitats important to those geese and other migratory birds. On October 12, the Service published a notice in the Federal Register that provides details of the meetings and also published a proposed rule that, if approved, would implement the preferred action alternative identified in the draft EIS.
The Service's proposed alternative seeks to manage light goose populations by increasing the harvest of light geese and modifying current habitat management programs. This increased harvest would be achieved by modifying existing hunting season regulations to permit the use of unplugged shotguns and electronic calls during light goose seasons after all other migratory bird seasons have closed, and by creating a new regulation to allow harvest outside of normal hunting seasons.
The proposed alternative is similar to provisions that were implemented by legislation in 1999 and that remain in effect pending completion of the EIS. The proposed alternative would also allow states in the Atlantic Flyway to implement conservation measures to control the rapidly expanding population of greater snow geese. Other alternatives range from taking no additional action to the direct removal of large numbers of light geese on the birds' breeding grounds in the arctic, using wildlife agency personnel or their agents.
Increasing agricultural and refuge development along waterfowl flyways has improved the food supply available to light geese during their yearly migrations. As a result, population growth rates have exploded. The annual winter population index of mid-continent light geese has tripled in the past 30 years, and the total number of birds on known breeding colonies in the central and eastern Arctic likely approaches 5.8 million birds in spring. The fragile tundra and salt marsh habitat in the vicinity of light goose breeding colonies cannot support populations of that size.
Over the past decade, researchers have documented increasing habitat loss and degradation on thousands of acres of salt marshes and freshwater wetlands in the Canadian arctic, especially in the Hudson Bay Lowlands. Congregating in large numbers, light geese dig into the soil, consuming the roots of plants before they have sprouted. Grazing of above-ground portions of plants by geese further removes vegetative cover. Plant communities are increasingly unable to rebound from this intense grazing, grubbing and shoot-pulling, particularly given the short growing season in the Arctic. Removal of plant cover also results in an increase in evaporation rates, bringing additional salts to the surface and increasing the salinity of the soil. This increased salinity reduces and eventually eliminates the ability of salt marsh plants to grow in the soil, resulting in desertification, erosion and permanent loss of habitat.
In addition to the problems caused by lesser snow and Ross' goose populations, impacts are now being recorded from greater snow geese. The number of greater snow geese increased from 25,400 birds in 1965 to more than 837,000 birds in 2001. The rapidly expanding population has caused degradation of natural marsh habitats along migration areas in the St. Lawrence River valley. Farmers have also suffered extensive crop damage by geese in surrounding areas.
Meetings will also be held in the following cities: Washington, DC., Dover, Delaware, Bismarck, ND, Bloomington, MN, Blue Springs, MO, Rosenberg, TX and Baton Rouge, LA. The Fish and Wildlife Service will accept comments on the draft EIS in these meetings and in writing through December 14.
To view the draft EIS, visit http://migratorybirds.fws.gov. To obtain a hard copy of the EIS, write to the Chief, Division of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, ms 634 ARLSQ, 1849 C St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20240. Comments may be sent to the above address or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.