New York Hunters Encouraged to Help Control Population Beginning Spring 2009
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis today announced that a special snow goose hunting season will begin March 11 in most areas of the state. Federal and state regulations were amended last fall to allow this special season, under the authority of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to control certain wildlife populations.
Populations of snow geese (also referred to as “light geese” because of their white plumage) have grown to historic highs, and their feeding has negatively impacted natural vegetation found in coastal marshlands during breeding, migration and winter.
“The overabundance of snow geese, which nest in far northern regions of North America, is harming their fragile Arctic breeding habitat,” said Bryan Swift, DEC bird biologist. “Returning the snow goose population to sustainable levels is necessary to protect this delicate habitat, and every species dependent on it. Serious damage to agricultural crops, such as hay, winter wheat, barley and rye, occurs on migration and wintering areas as well.”
The Atlantic Flyway population of snow geese, composed mostly of “greater” snow geese, increased from approximately 50,000 birds in the mid 1960s to more than 1 million birds in recent years. Most of these birds pass through New York during spring and fall migrations and spend the winter in New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. Wildlife managers have been concerned about the impacts of too many birds for many years and they have recommended a population goal of 500,000 in the Atlantic Flyway.
New York has had a lengthy hunting season for snow geese for many years, but until now, federal regulations did not allow the season to be open after March 10, when large numbers of birds begin migrating north from their wintering areas. From mid-March to mid-April, more than 100,000 snow geese may spend time in New York, fueling up for their return to the Arctic breeding grounds. During the normal season, hunters harvest 5,000-10,000 birds annually.
Snow geese numbers have increased dramatically for various reasons. The availability of waste grains on agricultural fields has provided a vast new food supply for these birds. Second, continuation of restrictive hunting regulations during the 1970s and 1980s allowed the population to grow while hunter harvest rates declined. These two factors resulted in a higher reproductive rate, a higher adult survival rate, and offspring that were in much better condition to survive.
Concern about the overabundance of snow geese has been growing for years. An international “Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group” concluded in 1998 that action was needed to limit the greater snow goose population. However, it took more than a decade to fully implement the recommendations of this group. In November 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized rules establishing a “Conservation Order” that allowed an increase of snow goose hunting across the country. Similar regulations have been in place in many Midwestern states and Canadian Provinces, including Quebec, since 1999. Harvest of snow geese has more than doubled in those areas and the population growth rate has been reduced.
New York’s Regulations for Spring 2009
Under the new state regulations, any person who has migratory game bird hunting privileges in New York, including a valid Harvest Information Program (“HIP”) confirmation number, may take snow geese and Ross’ geese (a smaller but nearly identical species) in the Western, Northeastern, Southeastern, and Lake Champlain Waterfowl Hunting Zones from March 11 through April 15, in addition to the regular snow goose hunting seasons in each zone. Areas where large numbers of snow geese occur at this time of year include the Finger Lakes region and the upper Hudson and Champlain Valley regions. A special season was not implemented on Long Island because of the limited number of appropriate areas.
All migratory game bird hunting regulations and requirements apply to the taking of snow geese during this spring harvest period, except that use of recorded or electrically amplified calls or sounds is allowed as is the use of shotguns capable of holding more than three shells.
Harvest reporting is also not mandatory, but any person who participates must provide accurate and timely information on their activity and harvest if requested by DEC, which plans to survey a sample of program participants to estimate hunter activity and harvest.
Special Snow Goose Season Details
- Open from March 11 till April 15.
- Shooting hours are from 30 minutes before sunrise till sunset.
- Bag limit is 15 per day; no possession limit.
- Electronic calls and unplugged shotguns (more than three shells) are allowed, although non-toxic shot must be used.
- Waterfowl areas open are: Western, Northeastern, Lake Champlain and Southeastern