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MERCER: Geese populations growing faster than hunters can harvest

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PIERRE -- There's no way to hunt our way out of the environmental disaster that snow geese have become.

And our state's Wildlife Division biologists know it.

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One of their top men, Tom Kirschenmann, used the word "havoc" a few days ago to describe what's occurring.

Tony Leif, the division's director, said more hunting should be attempted before "draconian" steps are taken.

There should be 1.5 million to 2 million of the birds across North America. There are 10 times as many. They are tearing apart their nesting grounds in Canada.

They breed every year. The 10 percent of goslings that survive and grow into adults typically live eight years.

That means only four goslings per breeding pair of adults are needed to double the population.

This problem spans the entire continent, from wintering grounds as far south as Central America to the breeding grounds as far north as the Arctic Circle.

That's how far many of the birds migrate, including the hundreds of thousands that cross through South Dakota's farm fields each spring and fall.

Biologists warned as far back as the 1990s about the snow geese populations exploding.

The responses have been cautious and slow. Snow geese are governed under migratory bird treaties between the three nations.

In South Dakota, the possession limit no longer exists for snow geese. Licensed hunters can keep as many as they want in their freezers.

The daily bag limit was 20 in 2013. The proposal for this year is 50 per day.

The Game, Fish and Parks Commission members will consider it Aug. 7 at their next meeting.

"In an attempt to meet population goals, it is necessary to use all available management tools," GFP's proposal said.

The 50 won't make much of a difference.

The 2013 fall season had 3,747 hunters from South Dakota and 641 non-residents. They killed an estimated 53,322 snow geese and other light geese. With a daily limit of 20, they took about 12 apiece for the season.

We have many other goose problems.

Biologists rebuilt the population of resident -- that is, year-round -- Canada geese in eastern South Dakota. Each year their population grows farther beyond the control of hunting.

Canada geese now pose a threat at Rapid City regional airport, too.

The Game, Fish and Parks Commission has added season after season because of the abundance of geese.

There is a spring hunt for snow geese and other light geese. There is a special August hunt for Canada geese, followed by a September hunt for Canada geese that's expanded this year to include all of Custer, Fall River and Pennington counties.

There is a special spring management take for Canada geese too. But it might be scrapped. Why? Ineffective.

Meanwhile we suddenly don't have enough pheasants. The antelope population is down overall, and depending where you are there might be too few deer.

GFP next plans to transfer bighorn sheep from Alberta into the Deadwood area and stock Atlantic salmon in Lake Oahe.

GFP does all this without the Legislature's OK. Outdoor entertainment is quite the challenging merry-go-round.

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