Starting March 15, Alberta hunters will have the opportunity to not only scratch their hunting itch a few months early, but to help the environment in the process.
In an effort to help deal with an abundance of lesser snow geese, a species that has grown so numerous it has the potential to destroy its own habitat, along with Environment Canada, the province has green lighted a spring hunt in addition to its already scheduled fall hunt. “Lesser snow geese numbers exploded after a hunting ban was implemented in the 1900s, and the result is that their population is around the 15-million range, compared to a generation ago when they were around a million,” says Let’s Go Outdoors’ Michael Short.
The effects of such a massive boom have proven problematic, with the migration routes south of the Arctic largely to blame. “The Arctic continues to offer plenty of food required for breeding, but it’s the south, where salt water marshes have given way to new rice plantations and other agricultural practices like planting grain, that has proven to be a buffet for the snow goose,” Short says.
While agricultural depletion along the flyways is one concern created by this mass populous, there’s also the trickle-down effect to consider. “The Arctic currently offers prime habitat for these birds, but the long-term issue of continual habitat destruction on other animals that call the area home can’t be denied, nor can the fact that the geese pull plants out by the roots, meaning there’s no chance of seeing vegetation returning,” Short says.
What’s more, he adds that if action on lessening their numbers is not taken, at some point carrying capacity both in the winter and breeding grounds will be maxed out, and this could lead to starvation and death. “Not to mention the extensive habitat degradation in Canada’s high arctic. It doesn’t take long for a flock of 50,000 hungry geese to mow down a field of grain, rice field or wild grasses.”
This is where hunters come in.
“The only thing left to keep numbers in check is hunters,” says Short, “and there’s a real fear that there aren’t enough to have much of an impact.” Here’s why: In the U.S., water fowlers have seen bag limits over the course of their spring hunting, which started in 1999, increase to over a million birds, yet overall geese populations are on the rise. “Since the geese that use the Alberta flyway are not quite at these numbers, the hope is to get ahead of the growth curve and have an opportunity to make an impact on ensuring the type of destruction being faced by some agricultural areas in the south is not repeated here in Alberta.”
With this is mind the province has set a daily 50-bird game limit for hunters. “This sounds like a lot, but when you’re dealing with these types of geese numbers, it’s incredibly small,” Short says.
The spring season is open from March 15 to June 15, and hunters looking to participate should note that a hunter’s federal waterfowl stamp from 2014 is adequate, though a new provincial hunting licence will be required.
Recipes for Snow Geese: http://www.agjv.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31