Once the Canada goose population recovered and they were able to find favorable wintering areas, the geese gradually abandoned or significantly curtailed their fall migrations. AP Photo/Tony Dejak

The kids are back to school and Labor Day is looming, marking the unofficial end of summer when tourists, a necessary nuisance, make their annual migration south. Feathered fowl are also winging their way south – at least some of them. Others, like tarrying tourists, have taken up extended residence and now linger longer in the Pine Tree State.

Maine’s early (sometimes referred to as resident or nuisance) Canada goose season kicked off on Sept. 1 with liberal bag limits of six birds per day in the North hunting zone and 10 in South and Coastal zones. That may seem generous, with later, regular goose season bag limits of only two a day and concern over recent population declines. However, while all these birds share the same genetic heritage, their behavior differs dramatically.

Now a common sight in many suburban and even urban areas, Canada geese were hunted nearly to extinction during the market gunning days, before game laws when wild game was sold for human consumption. The modern conservation movement, started and championed by hunters, prompted protections that brought populations of geese and many other migratory species back to harvestable numbers, and then some. Once recovered, Canada geese reclaimed their historical breeding grounds in Canada, with those in the Atlantic flyway traditionally migrating south to winter predominantly in coastal areas from the Chesapeake Bay south to the Carolinas.

Sometimes it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and the road to disaster is often paved with good intentions. In the 1960s and ’70s the conservation movement morphed into environmental activism. In 1970, the U.S. Department of the Interior published a book titled, “Home Grown Honkers.” It is essentially a how-to guide for well-meaning amateur nature enthusiasts to establish local goose populations. Meanwhile, state fish and game agencies were working to build their local flocks with trap and transfer relocation programs. Results proved far greater than expected – or desired.

Already being at new and favorable wintering areas, goose populations gradually abandoned or significantly curtailed their fall migrations. Often a short trip to the coast, or large inland reservoirs was enough to keep them safe and well-fed in winter, where they could quickly disperse out over the landscape when the ice melted and the grass turned green again.

Around the same time another transition was occurring. Birds that traditionally nested and fed in, on and around wetlands and waterbodies found an ample supply of food on hard ground in the form of agricultural crops and waste grain, and eventually on lawns, soccer fields, parks and golf courses.

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While populations of migratory geese, and residents that stray into rural areas can be controlled by regulated hunting, those that stick closer to human trappings where predators are scarce and hunting prohibited find safe havens where they can proliferate relatively unmolested.

At first glance, occasionally over aggressive geese, a nasty case of duck itch or green goo on your golf shoes might seem like little more than a curious nuisance. However, those same geese concentrate on and defile lakes and ponds that serve as public drinking water supplies. They also congregate around airports, where bird strikes are increasingly common.

Early and sometimes late goose seasons were implemented to address the issue. While resident goose populations continue to grow in size and range, these seasons are at least curtailing that growth. There are other non-lethal methods that help but with geese, deer and just about every other game species, regulated hunting has always proven to be the most effective and cost effective method for controlling wildlife populations.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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