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SD GF&P searching for adequate number of resident Canada geese

In the last five years, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department has spent $2.4 million on Canada goose depredation. In that time, the population peaked at 270,000 resident geese in 2012 and has dropped to 155,000 this year. (Courtesy Photo)

Controlling the overabundant population of South Dakota's resident Canada geese has cost millions of dollars in recent years, but the efforts seem to be paying off.

Officials say a number of factors — including a special August Management Take — have helped in the decline of an estimated 115,000 resident Canada geese in South Dakota in the past five years. During that time, the GF&P has spent $2.4 million on goose depredation.

"It's been a big, challenging issue over many, many years," said Keith Fisk, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department's Wildlife Damage Program administrator. "So it's really nice to see that population start to nose over and decrease."

The recent peak in the Canada goose population came in 2012 when there were 270,000 in the state, according to numbers estimated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This spring, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated there were 155,000 resident Canada geese in South Dakota.

The decline in numbers should be pleasing to the state's farmers, because groups of Canada geese are known for damaging sections of corn, beans and wheat fields.

Because of that, GF&P has put forward hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to control the population. As goose numbers increased, so did the funding to mitigate damage.

In 2012, GF&P spent about $717,000 on Canada goose depredation, which includes installing electric fencing, initiating buffer-strip contracts, destroying nests and other programs.

But now that the population has dipped, less has been spent on controlling Canada geese. In 2015, which had its fiscal year end June 30, $384,000 was spent.

"We certainly have issues with (agriculture) depredation," said GF&P Senior Waterfowl Biologist Rocco Murano. "That's where the vast majority of that money goes to. The vast majority of the geese are on private land, so we have to have a balance between landowner and sportsmen expectations of the population."

The GF&P issued its first-ever Resident Canada Goose Management Plan in 1998, and issued updated versions in 2005 and 2010. Fisk said a new five-year plan will be assembled sometime in early 2016.

One of the purposes of the management plan is to provide objectives on populations so there is enough geese for hunters to harvest, but not too many to be a nuisance. While it's encouraging there has been a dip in resident Canada goose numbers recently, the state is still above its current management goal of 80,000 to 90,000.

"There are hunters who want to see the population stay high for more opportunities, and landowners who want it lowered," Murano said. "The management plan helps try to balance those expectations and desires."

Part of the 2010 management plan suggested South Dakota residents receive a new August Management Take, which was implemented later that year. At the time, the resident population of Canada geese was 165,000.

From 2010 to 2014, hunters have harvested 135,367 Canada geese during the August Management Take, which is only for counties in which Canada geese have proven to be nuisances on crops, mainly eastern and northeastern South Dakota. Daily bag limits started at eight in early years of the August Management Take and later jumped to 15. This year, the August Management Take started on Aug. 15.

Fisk pointed out there are other factors influencing the decline in the resident population. There is an early Canada goose hunting season for a wider range of the state that starts on Sept. 1. Sportsmen Against Hunger has opened arms to receiving Canada goose meat to give to needy families, which encourages harvest.

And weather dynamics, including brutal weather in 2013 that saw cold temperatures and a blizzard in May, influenced the birds' breeding success.

"Harvest definitely plays a pretty significant role, but we can't put all the credit out there on hunting," Fisk said.

A stakeholder group, Murano said, has already been organized to discuss components for the new Resident Canada Goose Management Plan, including a potentially new figure for the management population goal. He said any components to the plan are open for public commentary.

Fisk and Murano both emphasized people get involved if they feel passionately about the number of resident Canada geese in South Dakota.

"We're starting here in September and it will be a six- to nine-month process to revise the management plan," Fisk said.