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Flyway Council Orders Ban on Autumn Goose-Hunting Season

August 18, 1995

SYRACUSE, N.Y (AP) _ For the first time in this century, New York will not have an autumn Canada goose season. Neither will most of the other 16 East Coast states in the Atlantic Flyway.

The 1995 season has been canceled by the Atlantic Flyway Council, a waterfowl management group made up of representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, eastern seaboard states and Canadian provinces.

Biologists say the decision was made because of an alarming population decline among geese nesting in northern Quebec. Those birds migrate south across New York beginning in late September and continuing through January.

A year ago, New York had a 70-day goose season, and bag limits ranged from one to three birds a day, depending on the date and location.

The only goose hunts to be allowed this year, not only in New York but along most of the flyway, will be those that target local-nesting, non-migratory flocks that cause nuisance problems.

New York’s 40,000 licensed waterfowl hunters will have their nuisance-goose season Sept. 5-15. They’ll be allowed up to five geese a day.

The council decided to cancel the traditional autumn seasons to protect dwindling flocks of geese nesting on and around northern Quebec’s Ungava Bay.

``We felt it was the only thing we could do,″ said council member Bryan Swift, the chief waterfowl biologist for New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

About half of all Canada geese winging along the Atlantic Flyway each fall are native to the Ungava Bay region.

Aerial surveys indicate those Quebec flocks have shriveled by two-thirds, from 750,000 geese to fewer than 250,000, in just seven years. Along with hunting pressure, several consecutive bad reproductive seasons caused by drought or inclement spring weather were partly to blame.

Biologists also suspect spring hunting of geese by native Cree Indians has had a big impact on migratory flocks. To deal with the problem, federal and state game managers moved three years ago to cut 20 days off fall seasons and tighten bag limits up and down the flyway. They were confident such restrictions would trigger a recovery.

``It should have worked, but it didn’t,″ Swift said.

In June, biologists counted only 29,000 nesting pairs of geese in the region, about one-fourth as many as 1988.

Things went from bad to worse when most of this year’s Ungava nests failed to produce any young.

``It appears their spring reproduction was a total bust,″ said Wes Stiles, a waterfowl specialist for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

That’s what turned a short goose season into a no-goose season along most of the Flyway, a funnel-shaped migration path that begins in Quebec and Ontario and winds up in Florida.

Goose gunning will be allowed after September only in a small part of southwestern Pennsylvania, parts of coastal New England and West Virginia. Those places will be open because they aren’t on the itinerary of the Quebec migrants, biologists said.

It’s not quite like canceling Christmas, but to Rick Capozza, the scrapping of goose-hunting plans is almost as melancholy.

Capozza, the president of the Wildfowlers of Central New York, is an environmental attorney. Last autumn and early winter, he spent an average of more than two days a week in duck or goose blinds.

``Well, I guess we’ll be doing a lot of duck hunting this year,″ Capozza said. ``It’s bad news, even worse than we thought. But we’ll ride it out, if that’s what it takes to bring the birds back.″

Last year, hunters bagged more than 27,000 geese in two regions of upstate New York alone.

Although the Flyway Council officially has canceled only this year’s hunt, several more autumns are likely to pass before Capozza and other hunters can resume their goose-hunting traditions.

``The birds can’t recover from this in one year,″ Stiles said. ``Certainly it will be a couple of years, maybe more. We can’t hold out much hope to people on that at this point.″

Even with no hunting, Ungava geese are destined for a slow, perilous recovery because of their biology. The geese in that region don’t reach sexual maturity until they’re at least 3 years old, Stiles said.

That means goslings hatched in northern Quebec next spring won’t be raising their own babies before 1999, at the earliest.

End Adv For Weekend Editions Aug. 19-20

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