Pennsylvania struggles with Canada goose population

HARRISBURG, Pa. – While the name Canada goose conjures up images of long-distance migrations between the frigid north and winter haven in the south, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has an entirely different perspective on this large waterfowl.

Growing populations of resident Canada geese – those that for the most part do not migrate – are being blamed for a diversity of problems such as fouling water supplies, causing crop damage and creating nuisances on public beaches and golf courses.

Over the past few years, the game commission has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which sets the parameters for migratory bird hunting seasons, for greater flexibility in establishing hunting seasons and bag limits to address the growing problems attributed to resident Canada geese.

Making its case. One way in which the state is working to bolster its case is by participating in a banding program to document the survival, movements and harvest rates of Pennsylvania’s resident Canada geese population.

For approximately four weeks beginning in late June, Canada geese in Pennsylvania are virtually flightless as they molt old flight feathers and grow new ones.

During this window of opportunity, the game commission’s team of biologists, Wildlife Conservation Officers, other agency employees and many volunteers capture geese and attach leg bands as part of their research.

Not the same geese. John Dunn, game commission waterfowl biologist, explained that Canada geese residing in Pennsylvania in the summer are entirely separate from “flight geese,” which travel through Pennsylvania in the fall months.

“Everyone thinks these summer birds were short-circuited during a migration and then stayed in Pennsylvania,” Dunn said.

“That’s not the case. We’ve seen a growing year-round population of Canada geese for the past 20 years. We use the molt when geese are flightless to capture and attach numbered leg bands.

“The subsequent band recoveries reported by hunters helps us get important information on goose survival and harvest rates that are needed to evaluate Pennsylvania’s hunting seasons and their effects upon the resident Canada goose population.”

Goose management. Don Garner, Information and Education supervisor for the game commission’s Southcentral region, explained that hunting is crucial in goose management.

“Many believe the Pennsylvania Game Commission is an agency charged solely with providing hunting and trapping opportunities,” said Garner, who assisted with a recent banding effort in Huntingdon.

“It is true that our Board of Game Commissioners do establish seasons and bag limits with an eye toward maximizing a quality hunting experience.

“However, the agency also conducts a considerable amount of research, and banding Canada geese is a part of that ongoing research.”

Hunting seasons. Since 1992, a September, or “early,” Canada goose season has been in place in northwest and southeast portions of the state to specifically control the resident goose population prior to the occurrence of the normal migration of geese from the north.

In 1995, the early season was expanded to include the rest of the state.

Other Canada goose seasons in Pennsylvania are the regular season, which is held from mid-November through late-December; and the late season, which is held throughout most of the state from mid-January through mid-February.

The late season, which also is designed to target resident Canada geese populations, is closed in the southeastern portion of the state and in the Pymatuning area in Crawford County.

Dunn agreed, stating that hunting in southcentral Pennsylvania accounts for about 90 percent of the annual mortality of resident Canada geese and the population has stabilized there since the inception of the resident Canada goose hunting seasons.

More help needed. Yet, in southeastern Pennsylvania, where hunting opportunities are more limited, resident goose numbers continue to spiral upwards.

“The banding process will help us demonstrate to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the importance of resident Canada geese in Pennsylvania’s goose harvest,” Dunn said.

Hunters harvesting a banded goose are urged to report the number to the U.S. Geological Survey, Bird Banding Laboratory by calling toll-free 1-800-327-BAND.

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