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Nature News
by Marlene Harris

Spring 2001   —   Snow Goose Hunt in Saskatchewan

The federal government has authorized a special hunt of snow geese in Saskatchewan this spring. The decision was taken because officials say the population is rapidly increasing to a point where the birdsí Arctic feeding grounds are in danger of being destroyed. The present population is estimated to be anywhere from six hundred thousand – eight hundred thousand, and steadily rising.

A similar hunt was held this spring in New Mexico, and officials there cited the same problem as the reason for the hunt. Some animal welfare organizations have expressed opposition for these measures, saying the real reason for organizing the hunts is the increased revenue which governments obtain from hunting permits. One such group, the Animal Welfare Institute sent a representative to study the Arctic areas inhabited by snow geese during the breeding season; his report was that there was no evidence that the feeding grounds had been excessively denuded of vegetation.

One thing is certain: man has changed the landscape in so many ways, that situations like this are bound to occur again and again. A species is hunted almost to extinction, as was the snow goose. It is eventually given complete protection, and may subsequently recover and rebound, but does so under very different circumstances. Habitat has been destroyed on a massive scale, natural predators have been extirpated from most areas, and an ecosystem has been altered. As a result, some protected species dramatically increase in number, but one may say, unnaturally. Finally, man once again enters the picture, this time to try to balance the scale, as he sees fit. It is a recurring pattern in the natural world; look at the elk of Yellowstone, without the limiting effects of wolves as one example. Since wolves had been extirpated from the region, elk numbers had steadily increased over the years, and with the subsequent degradation of elk habitat, starvation and disease were on the increase. Hopefully the reintroduction of wolves will help in recovering the natural balance, given time. In the case of the snow goose, it is unlikely these special hunts will have any impact on the overall population; wildlife management (more accurately, mismanagement) of this sort is almost always a short–term, short–sighted measure, and usually leads either to establishing regular control programs, or abandoning such measures altogether in the face of failure.

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