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North Dakota Game and Fish Department Courtesy Photo There's still something special about seeing the largest Canada goose on the prairie fly overhead.

Geese season upping the ante

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Dickinson, 58602
The Dickinson Press
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Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

When North Dakota's early Canada goose season starts Aug. 15, hunters who find themselves in the right situation will likely have a limit of 15 birds a day, up from eight last year and five in 2010.

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This is a remarkable development for someone like me who grew up and started hunting in the 1980s, when the state had established zones where shooting of Canada geese was prohibited, and outside those zones the limit for much of the season was one Canada goose per day.

I relay this scenario when I occasionally hear disparaging remarks associated with Canada geese, or snow geese as well. While it's no secret that today's population sometimes creates problems with crop depredation and even encroaching on residential areas, the restoration of the giant Canada goose from near extinction in North America is a success story that has few equals in the history of wildlife management.

The State Game and Fish Department is well aware of the issues with geese eating primarily row crops planted near wetlands, grazing on lawns near waterways, and leaving droppings behind on golf course greens and other public areas.

For more than a decade, Game and Fish has lobbied the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for more days to hunt resident Canada geese in late summer, when hunter effort can target birds that are born and raised in the state. The higher limit this fall, and the opportunity to start the season in August, is a direct result of that input.

In addition, since 2002 special permits have provided to landowners the option to directly kill or destroy nests of birds causing depredation in early spring and summer.

Even before that, Game and Fish suspended relocation efforts and removed goose hunting closure zones, but due to an unprecedented wet cycle, which created near-perfect habitat conditions, the population continued to increase until 1999 when the state held its first early Canada goose season in two counties in southeastern North Dakota.

In my mind, a large Canada goose is as much a trophy now as it was when I bagged my first one in the 1980s, and there's still something special about seeing the largest Canada goose on the prairie fly overhead -- and not just in pictures.

North Dakota hunters and landowners had an integral role in restoring these birds to the point they could be hunted at all.

From a flock of giant Canada geese established at Slade National Wildlife Refuge near Dawson in Kidder County in 1969, to large-scale releases of hand-reared geese starting in 1972, North Dakota has seen steady increases and these magnificent birds now nest throughout the state.

By 1988, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service annual spring waterfowl survey indicated about 18,000 resident Canada geese. By 1993, the population estimate was 20,000.

Then the wet cycle started, and all of us relearned the value of good habitat. With water occupying many wetland basins in the state for going on 20 years now, the 2012 spring count topped 309,000 resident Canada geese.

Game and Fish has always had the philosophy that increased hunter opportunity should be the primary method of goose population management. There is also a place for agricultural producers to harass or even directly kill geese that are eating crops.

While hunting waterfowl in August is often hot, humid and buggy -- almost the exact opposite of a crisp, dry October morning -- it's still something to look forward to, and the prospects might never be better.

Leier is a biologist with the Game & Fish Department. He can be reached by email: dleier@nd.gov. Read his blog at dougleier.areavoices.com

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