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Finding hunting land key to special snow goose season

Published February 13. 2010 09:00AM

Very often, those accused of achieving success because of good luck are actually the beneficiaries of their preparation meeting opportunity.

For dedicated waterfowl hunters, they will continue to prepare for the Snow Goose Conservation Season in Pennsylvania, which opens Saturday, Feb. 20, and remains open through Saturday, April 3. These veteran hunters know, however, any success they have will be the result of having the good luck to find flocks of the birds, the good luck for them to be on land open to hunting and any extra good luck that comes their way.

Again this year, a conservation order for snow geese has been issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a special management action authorized under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This is designed to control certain wildlife populations when traditional management programs are unsuccessful in reducing overabundant wildlife populations.

While federal and state laws allow for additional hunting of snow geese in response to concerns about their growing numbers across North America, finding these massive flocks can be difficult. Populations of snow geese have reached levels that are causing extensive and possibly irreversible damage to the nesting grounds they and other species use in the fragile arctic and sub-arctic tundra breeding grounds.

Large numbers of snow geese feeding on natural vegetation can also destroy large areas of coastal marshland during migration and winter, and serious damage to agricultural crops such as hay, winter wheat, barley and rye occurs on migration and wintering areas. Returning the snow goose population to sustainable levels is necessary to protect this delicate habitat, and every species dependent on it.

In the Atlantic Flyway, the population is composed mostly of "greater" snow geese, which is an increase from the approximately 50,000 birds in the mid 1960s to more than one million in recent years. Wildlife biologist estimate the population has been growing at an 8-percent annual rate and if sustained is projected to reach 2 millions birds by 2015 and 3 million by 2020. Most of these birds pass through Pennsylvania during spring and fall migrations and spend the winter in New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

Waterfowl managers concerned about the impacts of too many snow geese, have recommended a population goal of 500,000 in the Atlantic Flyway. To approach this goal, the only practical way to reduce the population to that level is to increase hunter harvest, which in recent years has averaged between 30,000-40,000 birds in the flyway.

Pennsylvania's snow goose harvest has been steadily increasing over the past decade averaging about 7,000 per year. Last year, Pennsylvania hunters harvested 5,900 snow geese, which was second only to New York of the five states in the Atlantic Flyway that participated in the Conservation Season.

USFWS officials estimate these additional hunting methods will increase the harvest rate on greater snow geese and aid in reducing the population to the 500,000 goal by 2013. To do this, the conservation season has been designed not to threaten the long-term status of the snow geese, and waterfowl managers will carefully monitor the status of snow geese annually to insure no over-harvest of the population.

Pennsylvania has had a long hunting season, consisting of 107 days, for many years, but until now, federal regulations did not allow the season to be open after March 10, when large numbers of snow geese begin migrating north from their wintering areas. From mid-February to late March, more than 100,000 snow geese may spend time in Pennsylvania, fueling up for their return to the arctic breeding grounds in May.

In addition to the lengthy season, there is a liberal daily limit of 15 per day, there is no possession limit, hunting begins one-half hour before sunrise and extends to one-half hour after sunset and the use of electronic calls - not decoys is legal. Hunters must use non-toxic shot, possess a Pennsylvania hunting license, federal waterfowl stamp for individuals 16 and older, Pennsylvania migratory game bird license and a free Pennsylvania snow goose permit for submitting mandatory harvest report by Monday, May 3.

Permits and snow goose report cards can be obtained by submitting an online application on the Pennsylvania Game Commission Web site at by clicking on General Store on the top navigation and selecting "Visit The Outdoor Shop." Permits and the required report card also can be obtained by calling the PGC's Harrisburg headquarters at 717-787-4250 and asking for the Bureau of Wildlife Management.

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