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Results of the 2009 Light Goose Conservation Order in the Atlantic Flyway

by Ted Nichols
Waterfowl Ecology and Management Program Biologist in partnership with the
Atlantic Flyway Council Technical Section, Snow Goose, Brant and Swan Committee
September 15, 2009

See Ted's artcle, What Is a Light Goose Conservation Order? for background information.

During the spring of 2009, six Atlantic Flyway states implemented a Conservation Order (CO) for light geese under the authority of the US Fish and Wildlife Service as promulgated in 50 CFR 21.60 (E).

Results from New Jersey

In New Jersey, the CO was held March 11-April 18, 2009. As part of the requirement in the Federal Rule, the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife (Division) was responsible for reporting harvest, activity, and numbers of light geese taken with special methods by participants in the CO. The Division required CO participants to obtain a permit as a provision to conduct the harvest survey. Following the CO, participants were required to report their harvest and activities either online through the Division's web site or by mailing a paper activity diary that they received as their CO permit.

A total of 447 CO permits were issued and 150 harvest reports were received for a 34% response rate. 73% of permit holders actually pursued geese during the CO and 70% of these hunters harvested at least one bird. Participants expended 1,300 days pursuing light geese, 79% of which occurred before April 1. Cumberland and Salem counties together accounted for 64% of the hunter-days. An estimated 4,917 light geese were harvested with 88% of the harvest occurring before April 1. Salem and Cumberland counties accounted for 85% of the harvest while an additional 9% of the harvest was in Cape May County.

Special methods including take between sunset and hour after sunset, electronic calls, and birds shot with extra shells, respectively, accounted for 503, 1,671, and 1,873 of the total light geese harvested. There was evidence from harvest reports that many participants misinterpreted the question regarding extra shot shells since many hunters reported all their geese as harvested with the "4th to 7th shell in the firearm"; presumably, hunters interpreted this question to mean that they used an unplugged firearm and did not make a distinction between geese taken with the first 3 shots versus geese taken with the 4th through 7th shot shell. As a result, the estimate of geese taken with extra shells is likely inflated.

Results from the Atlantic Flyway

In 2009, six Atlantic Flyway states participated in the light goose CO (Table 1). Flyway-wide an estimated 3,614 hunters participated in the CO. The estimated flyway harvest of light geese was 23,769. The most useful of the special measures seemed to be the use of electronic calls, which accounted for approximately 29% of the total harvest. Two states did not allow shooting after sunset. An estimated 13% of the harvest occurred during the period between sunset and hour after sunset in the four states that allowed take during that period. An estimated 17% of the harvest was achieved with shells fired after the 3rd shot shell; however, this estimate is likely inflated due to data from New Jersey where there appeared to be some confusion from respondents regarding this question in the harvest survey.

During the spring of 2009, the light goose migration appeared earlier than average in the Atlantic Flyway. Although the satellite data for spring 2009 were not available at the time of this report, light geese seemed to move out of the Chesapeake and mid-Atlantic region 2-3 weeks earlier than average. Similarly, many light geese were in southern Quebec in mid-March, which is much earlier than average. Although many states had their CO open into April (Table 1), most harvest occurred during March. An estimated 60% and 93% of the harvest occurred in March in Maryland and Delaware, respectively. In New Jersey, 88% of harvest occurred in March. Further north, 75% of the harvest occurred during March in Vermont while 87% of the New York harvest was in March.

Despite an early spring migration, and lower than hoped for participation, the CO was reasonably successful during its first year. Since the federal rule was not authorized (approved November 2008) until after states had promulgated their 2008-09 regulations, it was difficult for states to adequately publicize the CO.

Participating states plan on making some changes to their regulations in 2010. Virginia plans on participating in the CO during 2010. Most states will initiate their CO earlier than 2009 so that special measures can be employed for longer periods of time. In an effort to better promote the CO and successful tactics, the Atlantic Flyway Council is developing a brochure that outlines methods for successful light goose hunting, an overview of the problems posed by overabundant light geese, and some links to more information on light goose recipes and hunting. This brochure will be distributed on agency web sites and through other media outlets.

Table 1. Light goose regulations by state in the Atlantic Flyway during the spring 2009 Conservation Order.

State Special Measures Outside of CO CO in 2009? CO Dates Special Measures in CO? Bag/Possession Limit Harvest Survey
NJ No Yes March 11-April 18 Unplugged guns, E-calls, extended hours None/None Yes
VT No Yes March 11-April 15 No 15/None Yes
NY No Yes March 11-April 15 Unplugged guns, E-calls 15/None Yes
DE Unplugged, E-calls Yes March 10-April 18 Unplugged guns, E-calls, extended hours None/None Yes
PA No Yes March 11-April 1 E-calls, extended hours 15/None Yes
MD Unplugged, E-calls Yes March 11-April 18 All None/None Yes
VA No No  
NC No No  

Plans for 2010: New Jersey

The Division expects the US Fish and Wildlife Service to authorize a CO for light geese in 2009-10. Federal law does not allow a CO to be open while any regular waterfowl hunting season is open. As a result, the light goose CO will open the day after the Special Winter Canada Goose Season closes. In New Jersey, the Light Goose CO will be held February 16 to April 10, 2010. Special regulations will be in place including the use of electronic calls, shotguns capable of holding up to 7 shells (including magazine and chamber, and extended shooting hours to include hour before sunrise to hour after sunset. There will be no daily bag or possession limits.

To participate in the CO hunters will need a valid hunting license, federal and state duck stamps, and a NJ Light Goose Conservation Order Permit ($2.00). The NJ Light Goose CO Permit will be available ONLY from the Division's license website or by mailing:

Light Goose Permit
NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife
PO Box 400
Trenton, NJ 08625-0400
A request for mailed permits must include:
  1. Photocopy of 2010 Hunting or All-Around Sportsmen license which clearly shows the Conservation ID Number and DOB;
  2. Check or money order for $2.00 payable to NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife;
  3. Self-addressed, stamped envelope;
  4. Daytime telephone number.
The light goose permit will not be available until January 2010. As part of the permit process, hunters will be required to report their activity and harvest as requested on the permit. Check the Division's web site in late winter for more details.

Where to Pursue Light Geese in New Jersey

Light geese may be found statewide but are most abundant in four primary locations.

First and foremost, Delaware Bay tidal marshes and nearby inland farm fields contain the most light geese. About 100,000 light geese are counted in these areas during the Mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey in early January. Delaware Bay tidal marshes from Goshen Creek in Cape May County to Mannington Meadow in Salem County contain an abundance of public land. The Division administers much of this public land as Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). A list of WMAs and maps can be found at Key WMAs for spring light geese include (from south to north): Dennis Creek, Heislerville, Egg Island, Fortescue, Nantuxent, New Sweden, Dix and Mad Horse Creek.

Excursions for light geese in these marshes are much more likely to be safe and successful with a dependable powerboat. Light goose flocks in this region feed, roost and loaf in the tidal marshes yet often make inland field feeding flights primarily into Salem and Cumberland counties. However, at times, these light goose flocks range as far inland as Mullica Hill, Turnersville and Franklinville. Since light geese are renowned for flying great distances between roosting and feeding sites, they are more inconsistent in a given area of agricultural fields on a day to day basis when compared to tidal marshes.

Second, considerable numbers of light geese can be found in central New Jersey. Flocks in this region range far and wide and are usually found in an area from Cranbury to Roosevelt to Wrightstown to Burlington. Generally, these birds are found field feeding on private farms necessitating obtaining landowner permission for access.

Snow geese
Snow geese
Click to enlarge

Third, light geese are also found in the northern part of the state centered on Merrill Creek Reservoir near Phillipsburg. Waterfowl hunting on the Merrill Creek Reservoir property itself is prohibited. However, these flocks also range far and wide on a daily basis and are usually found from Belvidere to Washington to Clinton to Flemington. Most of these flocks are also found on private farms.

Finally, light geese can be found in and around Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville. However, this flock tends to be much smaller in spring than in the fall.


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Last Updated: September 15, 2009