Conservation order aids Arctic ecosystem

To reduce the mid-continent light goose population, Congress recently authorized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a conservation order to increase the harvest of light geese.

The Conservation Order Light Goose Season will begin February 14 after the close of Canada goose season and will run through March 31. During the Conservation Order Season there will be no daily bag or possession limit on light geese, which includes snow, blue and Ross’ geese. Hunters will be allowed to use unplugged shotguns and electronic calls. Legal shooting hours will begin 30 minutes before legal sunrise and will end 30 minutes after legal sunset. All other waterfowl regulations, including the mandatory use of federally approved nontoxic shot, remain in effect.

The Conservation Order Season is necessary because of the serious long-term damage that the overpopulation of snow geese are causing to their breeding habitat in the Canadian arctic, said Mike O’Meilia, migratory bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Tundra habitat in the fragile coastal lowlands of Hudson Bay has been so seriously degraded by geese foraging on arctic vegetation that it may not recover in our lifetimes, perhaps longer.

“This is one of the most serious and unique migratory bird management challenges we have faced in a long time, and hunters are being asked to play a critical role,” O’Meilia said. “We do know that if light goose populations are not reduced, habitat degradation will continue and undoubtedly will seriously impact not only light geese but many other species of migratory birds and other arctic wildlife.”

The Conservation Order Light Goose Season is not just an extension of the regular light goose season to increase hunting opportunity, but a management action designed to provide hunters the opportunity to help reduce the light goose population to a level that is in balance with their environment.

Goose Hunters: Please Sign Up!

Federal law requires the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to estimate the harvest of light geese during the Conservation Order Light Goose Season. Therefore, the Department needs those participating in the Conservation Order to provide their names, addresses and telephone numbers in a letter or on a postcard and mail to:

Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

Att: Light Goose Conservation Order

PO Box 53465

Oklahoma City, OK 73152

Participants in the Conservation Order Light Goose Season will be mailed a harvest survey questionnaire after the close of the season requesting information on their harvest of light geese during the Conservation Order.

Training tomorrow’s anglers today

While fishing is a way of life for many Oklahomans, there are many young people who never experience the joys of catching their first fish, watching mom or dad battle the big un’, or just spending time with friends dunking worms in the local stream.

To help expose both youths and adults to the timeless thrills of fishing, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation offers basic angling instruction through its Aquatic Resources Education Program (AREP). If you enjoy fishing and would like to share your knowledge with someone just getting started, this is your chance to become involved as a volunteer.

“Most anglers were introduced to fishing by an older family member or good friend who fished,” said Colin Berg, Education supervisor for the Wildlife Department. “Today’s youth aren’t exposed to the same opportunities we had, so it’s harder for them to take up a lifelong sport like fishing. This is especially important when you consider that more than 75 percent all anglers had their first fishing experience before the age of 12. If they don’t start fishing before that age, there’s a chance that they never will.”

Volunteer instructors are trained to coordinate and instruct beginning anglers at fishing clinics and other educational events. A typical clinic consists of several educational stations such as fish I.D., proper casting technique, outdoor ethics, knot tying and water safety. After completing the education portion, clinic participants test their newly acquired knowledge at a local fishing hole.

The Department is always looking for new instructors to assist with clinics. If you are 18 years or older and want to share your angling skills with others, are concerned about fishing’s future, or just like to work with kids, you should call and reserve a spot at the Department’s volunteer training workshop. The workshop will be held Feb. 11, 6-9:30 p.m. at the Department’s Oklahoma City headquarters at 1801 N. Lincoln Blvd. (one block south of the State Capitol Bldg.). Pre-registration is required. For information, call (405) 521-4636.

Volunteer instructors needed

Remember who took you fishing the first time? How about the first fish you ever caught? Many of today’s youth aren’t exposed to fishing, and without an initial fishing experience they may never discover the rewards of fishing.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation realizes the hurdles that potential young anglers face, and we are trying to make a difference. The Department’s Aquatic Resources Education Program (AREP) strives to expose youngsters to fishing and aquatic resources through fishing clinics and educational programs.

If you would like to share your fishing or outdoor knowledge with someone, you’re invited to attend a FREE AREP volunteer training Feb. 11 from 6-9:30 p.m. at the Department Headquarters, 1801 N. Lincoln, OKC, OK 73105. Pre-registration is required so please call 405/521-4636.

USFWS studying cormorant control

Responding to public concerns about double-crested cormorants, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced its intention to develop a national cormorant management plan.

As part of that process, the USFWS will write an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) evaluating the species’ status, known and perceived impacts on other resources. The EIS will include potential management strategies. The plan will also consider the possible administrative, logistical, and socio-economic impacts of various management strategies.

Currently, the double-crested cormorant is protected under the Migratory Bird Act Treaty. However, double-crested cormorant populations are at record high levels, creating questions about the effects the birds may be having on recreational fishing, habitat and other migratory birds

“Issues concerning double-crested cormorants are of great interest in Oklahoma, especially to our state’s anglers,” said Kim Erickson, chief of fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “We’ll be following these developments closely, and we hope the USFWS will develop a management plan that resolves these issues.”

Based on comments received during a public scoping process, the USFWS will evaluate management alternatives in the environmental impact statement. Potential management alternatives range from continuing present policies to implementing large-scale population control measures on breeding grounds, wintering grounds, and migration areas in the United States. The public scoping meetings will be held in either April or May, during which the USFWS will accept public comments about the issue.

Populations of double-crested cormorants declined dramatically during the 1950s and 1960s from the effects of unregulated hunting, the pesticide DDT and the overall declining health of many ecosystems, especially those associated with the Great Lakes. Today, cormorants are thriving due to the presence of ample food in their summer and winter ranges, federal and state protection, and reduced contaminant levels.

The resurgence of double-crested cormorant populations has led to increasing concern about the birds’ impact on commercial and recreational fishery resources. Cormorants and other waterbirds such as pelicans and herons can have adverse impacts on fish populations at fish farms, hatcheries, and sites where hatchery-reared fish are released.

Because cormorants are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, their nests and eggs cannot be disturbed, and birds cannot be captured or killed unless a depredation permit is obtained from the USFWS.



Meetings to discuss resident Canada geese

To address problems associated with expanding populations of resident Canada geese, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is developing a national management plan to control these birds.

The first step of this process will begin with a series of public scoping meetings. In these meetings, the USFWS will gather public input about local and regional concerns associated with resident Canada geese. Input generated during the public comment period will be included in the agency’s environmental impact statement outlining possible effects of various management strategies.

The closest scoping meeting for Oklahoma residents to attend will be held at 7 p.m., March 1 in Denver at the Colorado Department of Wildlife, Northeast Region Service Center, Hunter Education Building at 6060 Broadway.

Additional comments may be sent in writing to: Chief, Office of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, ms 634-ARLSQ, 1849 C St. NW, Washington, DC 20240. You can also submit comments electronically to canada_gooseeis@fws.gov. The public comment period will end Mar. 30.

“Over the last 20 years, populations of resident Canada geese have increased significantly in many areas,” said Mike O’Meilia, migratory bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “In some areas, there are considerable conflicts with human populations. Therefore, the Fish and Wildlife Service is looking at solutions to resolve these conflicts as part of a comprehensive management plan.”

Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the USFWS has the authority to develop a management plan for resident Canada geese, O’Meilia added.

Many resident Canada geese are not migratory, but live year-round in very specific locations. Among the complaints associated with the birds is damage to personal and public property, as well as concerns for public health and safety.

“An adult Canada goose can leave up to a quarter-pound of droppings per day on beaches, parks, golf courses and other areas where people gather,” O’Meilia said. “There’s also a very significant and dangerous risk of aircraft strikes with these birds near airports.”

In addition to these issues, the environmental impact statement will evaluate other factors as sport hunting opportunities and socio-economic effects of resident Canada goose populations.

Tactics for hunting snow geese

Although winter is nearly over, waterfowlers can still enjoy exciting hunting opportunities by participating in the Light Goose Conservation Order.

Passed into law by Congress in 1999, the Conservation Order Season began Feb. 14 and will end on March 31. The purpose of the Conservation Order Season is to reduce populations of snow, blue and Ross’ geese before they migrate north and further damage their breeding habitat in the fragile coastal lowlands of Hudson Bay.

To increase the effectiveness of sport hunting during the season, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will allow hunters to use unplugged shotguns and electronic callers for the duration of the season, said Mike O’Meilia, migratory bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Also, legal shooting hours will begin 30 minutes before legal sunrise and will end 30 minutes after legal sunset.

“The whole purpose of the Conservation Order Season is to reduce the number of snow geese as much as possible within a relatively short time frame,” O’Meilia said. “It is vitally important to reduce the number of birds that will be able to reproduce this year, and the extended season allows hunters the opportunity to impact both ends of the birds’ migrations.”

Although hunters may find snow geese on public lands, most of the birds will be found on private land, particularly in northeast Oklahoma. By doing a little research, hunters can find farmers and other landowners who have suffered extensive crop and property damage from large flocks of snow geese. With a courteous request, one might be able to obtain hunting permission fairly easily.

Methods vary for hunting snow geese, but hunters should remember that snow geese are highly social birds, so they’re most likely to be attracted to very large decoy spreads.

Also, three or four people won’t be able to make enough noise with mouth calls to convince a large flock of geese to land. Many successful hunters use portable, battery-powered stereo systems (boom boxes) to play goose call tapes at maximum volume.

If you don’t have access to large numbers of decoys or stereophonic amplification equipment, you can enjoy varying degrees of success by spotting flocks on farm ponds and then approaching to within shotgun range. Snow geese on farm ponds are very wary, so camouflage clothing and stealth are necessary for hunters to be successful.

Department offers boxes for nesting birds

Oklahomans interested in helping nesting birds such as bluebirds, robins and chickadees should begin preparations now.

Mark Howery, natural resources biologist for the Wildlife Department, said nest boxes and nesting shelves should be erected and cleaned out by late February so birds can receive maximum benefit from them.

“Many birds can produce up to two or three broods per year,” Howery said. “They usually start looking for a nesting site in early March, so it is important to have nest boxes and nesting shelves built and in place early in the year.”

The Department’s Wildlife Diversity Program offers two new nest boxes for interested wildlife enthusiasts. The Dial-A-Bird house costs $18 ($21 by mail) and attracts the widest diversity of cavity-nesting birds, including bluebirds, chickadees, wrens and titmice. The Cedar Nesting Shelf costs $12 ($15 by mail) and attracts robins, phoebes, house finches, Carolina wrens and swallows. Both boxes are fully assembled by Oklahoma veterans and made of Oklahoma red cedar.

“We’re extremely proud to offer these two new items for backyard bird enthusiasts,” Howery said. “The Dial-A-Bird house is especially good in urban situations, because you can exclude house sparrows simply by dialing the entrance hole smaller.”

Packets inside the boxes contain additional information on choosing the best sites to erect them, what species might use them, and precautions to deter predators. Both boxes also include a survey form to rate the success of their use.