Wildlife: Snow goose numbers rise, waterfowl hunters needed

February 19, 2012 12:01 am

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A whiteout is raging in Eastern Pennsylvania. From mid-February through March, snow geese take center stage at the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area.

Last week, PGC personnel estimated that more than 20,000 snow geese and 2,600 tundra swans had arrived at Middle Creek. Shortly after dawn each day, they disperse to nearby feeding areas where they eat waste grain and winter wheat. At dusk, they return to the safety of the wildlife management area.

Goose and swan numbers will continue to increase over the next few weeks. If the past is any indicator, more than 100,000 snow geese and 10,000 tundra swans will arrive by early March.

Such impressive numbers make Middle Creek a major attraction for wildlife watchers. To see tens of thousands of geese and swans rise, wheel and pass overhead is truly a sight to behold. It just might make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

Located on the Lancaster-Lebanon county line, north of Lancaster near Kleinfeltersville, Middle Creek is easily accessed off the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It's difficult to predict precisely when waterfowl numbers will peak, but the first week in March is usually a good time.

That's the good news about snow geese. The bad news is they are victims of their own success, or more precisely, a wildlife management success. Snow geese visit Middle Creek on their way from their wintering grounds on the Chesapeake Bay to their arctic nesting grounds. Their spectacular numbers are a symptom of a population that is too big.

In 1960, the Atlantic Flyway had about 50,000 snow geese. Today that number is at about 1 million. Biologists predict the population could increase to 3 million by 2020.

That's just too many geese. Their foraging habits destroy nesting habitat in the arctic, and they turn marshland into open water on their winter range.

Allowing hunters to kill more snow geese might seem a reasonable solution, but there are not enough snow goose hunters. An extended spring season runs through April 27, and the bag limit is 25 birds per day, but there are simply too many birds. Last year, for example, 1,302 Pennsylvania hunters killed just 5,197 snow geese.

Having a huge population may seem to be a good problem, especially for Pennsylvania wildlife watchers, but biologists and wildlife managers have learned that this is truly too much of a good thing.

First Published 2012-02-18 23:29:05

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