Bird Dog & Retriever News

June / July 2003 issue Page 42

  "Total snow goose numbers have more than tripled during the past 30 years, " says DNR waterfowl biologist, Guy Zenner.
"The fragile Canadian arctic, with its extremely short growing season cannot support goose populations of that size. Snow geese were literally eating themselves out of house and home, and something had to be done, " Zenner said.
Scientists note that a full third of the vast arctic tundra is already destroyed, and that another third has been severely impacted. Were the damage stop immediately it could take a full century, perhaps more, for fragile plant life to recover.
In an effort to reduce the numbers of light geese, a special [conservation order] hunt was initiated in 1999. The goal of the emergency act was to reduce the 6 million bird [snow goose] flock by 50 percent. Special regulations allowed spring hunts, liberalized shooting hours and bag limits, unplugged shotguns, and the use of electronic calls. With the fifth year of special goose hunts currently underway, biologists are encouraged as the measure is showing preliminary signs of success.
"For the first time since records were kept, we are seeing the combined [regular and conservation order] harvest of snow geese reach or exceed one million birds, " said Zenner.
"In Iowa, success has fluctuated with weather conditions. During the past four seasons we have harvested anywhere from around 12, 000 to over 29, 000 geese during the special [conservation order] seasons.
"I think it is important to note that our combined annual snow goose harvest now represents about four times the average that occurred from 1988 to 1997. During 1999-2000, the regular light goose harvest in Iowa was only 11, 300, but the bag during the conservation order period was 20, 681, for a combined total of 31, 981 geese, " said Zenner.
"To me, the figures are extremely encouraging and suggest that, given the appropriate time and tools, hunters may just be able to bring this population under control."
Biologists predict that good numbers of snow geese, including an increasing number of juveniles, should continue to migrate through the state for the next two weeks.
From the undergrowth and isolated remnants of melted snow last week, a hundred yards or so from the yard, it came. The unmistakable cackle of a rooster pheasant. It faded as he most likely took to the air, startled perhaps by a wandering dog or a puff of wind. But his proclamation proves he's out there.
It was a sound I didn't hear a couple years ago. Coming off a snow and ice covered winter, which proved to be the third harshest on record, Iowa pheasants didn't have much to crow about in 2001. And neither did the hunters. That killer winter led to an all-time low summer count and on to a record low harvest of 470,000 birds that fall.
Barring a spring blizzard-always a remote possibility in Iowa-pheasants and other upland game species came through the winter of '02-03, though, in pretty good shape. "Two years ago, we estimate we lost 70 percent of our pheasant brood stock, " recalls Todd Bogenschutz, upland game biologist for the Department of Natural Resources. "Regardless of what happened that spring, we were facing a poor production year.
We just didn't have the hens. This winter, it's been pretty mild, by Iowa standards. If the bad weather is past, I suspect we will have lost only about 10 percent of the brood stock."
That means more birds heading into the spring nesting season. If nesting conditions are good, Iowa's number one game species could finish the rebound begun last year. "What we want to see is normal rainfall, to a little bit to the 'dry' side, " explains Bogenschutz as he looks ahead to the late May-June hatching period. "We also have the best production when temperatures run a little warmer instead of cooler." Cool, wet weather during the critical days after the hatch can cause heavy loss of chicks, due to exposure.
From there, those broods will try to avoid being eaten, while stuffing themselves with insects, seeds and waste grain. Good cover provides a pretty fair food base, but also protected areas, where pheasants are not as susceptible to predators.
As pheasant numbers bounce back, they still face a less hospitable landscape than the old Soil Bank days of the 1950s, or even the peak of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in the early '90s. Recovering wildlife populations will be knocked right back down, with another severe winteror two. To improve recovery prospects, Bogenschutz points to a

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Copyrights Bird Dog & Retriever News May 2003
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