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Nature News
by Marlene Harris

March 2001   —   Bad News for Snow Geese

New Mexico hunters are being encouraged to participate in a special 9-day hunt of snow geese. This hunt is being organized by the state government in response to what they say is an overpopulation problem of "epic proportions." Animal welfare groups are opposed to the hunt and say there is no overpopulation of geese; they believe this so–called crisis has been carefully engineered to appease regional hunters whose license fees and taxes help fund government wildlife agencies.

The two sides could not be farther apart in their views, and the truth probably lies somewhere in between. New Mexico government biologists state that the number of snow geese on the Arctic breeding grounds has swelled to over a half million birds. As a result, the feeding grounds are being destroyed. The majority of this western population spends the winter along the North American west central flyway, a range extending from southeast Colorado and west Texas, into New Mexico and as far south as the northern parts of Mexico. Officials claim a decline in hunting and an increase in crop planting all along the flyway have helped speed up the increase in number. One government biologist claims the flyway can support a goose population of about 110,000 birds, a far cry from the estimated half million which now winter along the flyway.

Animal welfare groups believe the situation is vastly exaggerated; one of the directors of the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) paid a visit to the Arctic in order to investigate the condition of the summer range. His report was that the breeding grounds were generally in satisfactory condition, with no signs of feeding areas having been excessively denuded of vegetation. The AWI Director calls the special hunt "one of the great conservation frauds of the current era."

New Mexico has issued a special "conservation order" allowing unlimited hunting of both snow geese and Ross’ geese from March 1 to March 10, in the region east of the Continental Divide. This is the second special hunt ordered by the State, the first, held last year. There is a regular annual hunt held earlier in the winter, during which, bag limits are set at 20 geese per day. The results of last year’s special hunt yielded approximately 175 more geese. That small number seems hardly worth the effort, however the government explains that the majority of the geese are on wildlife refuges where hunting is prohibited; the birds congregate there in order to feed on the winter corn which is provided for cranes. Officials are studying the possibility of "baiting" geese, in order to lure them off refuges and into hunting range.

Asked about the success of last year’s special hunt, the chief of migratory birds for the US Fish & Wildlife Service office in Albuquerque, replied that the results were "difficult to assess" but there was "speculation that it may have been helpful." (How’s that for a definitive response…)

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