MONTPELIER -- A decades-long boom in the population of snow geese has led state and federal fish and wildlife agencies to expand hunting seasons in hopes of cutting their numbers in half across North America and limit the damage they’re doing to fragile Arctic breeding grounds in northern Canada.
Vermont added a spring season hunting season of March 11-April 26 as the birds travel between their wintering grounds in the mid-Atlantic states to their Arctic breeding grounds in Canada. The birds mostly use the Lake Champlain corridor during their spring and fall migrations, though some use the Connecticut River corridor.
New York’s hunting season was similarly expanded and is in effect through April 15.
The number of birds is growing because they feed on grain left in farmers’ fields across the region, biologists say.
"In the Atlantic states, snow geese are field feeding during the day and they roost at coastal wildlife refuges at night," said Chris Dwyer, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, based in Hadley, Mass. "You do tend to see thousands and thousands of geese flying back and forth from different fields."
Snow geese, and similar species including blue geese and Ross’s geese in North America that are collectively referred to as light geese, have grown to record levels, scientists say.
A half-century ago, an estimated 50,000 breeding pairs of snow geese lived in North America.
Snow geese are managed by the Atlantic Flyway Council, made up of Canadian provinces, the federal fish and wildlife agencies in the two countries and the U.S. states that make up the flyway: Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Vermont.
Efforts to control snow geese populations have been under way for some time. The expanded spring hunt this year was authorized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and implemented by Vermont officials, aimed at preserving Arctic lands.
"Although the Arctic is vast, the areas that support migrating and breeding geese and other companion species are limited in extent and some areas are likely to become inhospitable for decades," said a statement from Environment Canada, a federal agency.
Dwyer said the hunting pressure prompted the snow geese to move around, possibly weakening them.
To encourage the hunt, snow geese hunters may use electronic calls and shooting hours will be extended until 30 minutes after sunset. The daily bag limit is 15 snow geese, and there is no possession limit.
The increase in snow geese hunting has helped business "a little bit," said hunting guide Dave De Vries of Addison.
"Snow geese are hard to hunt. There are a lot of eyes all the time. They go up as a tornado," De Vries said. "If you are in the field they want to be in, you’re going to be good. If not, you’re not going to get anything."