PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

December 12, 2009

Texas snow goose numbers continue decline

Chester Moore, Jr column for Sunday, Dec 13


(This is the conclusion of a two-part series on the decline of snow geese.)

 

     Outfitter William Sherrill is not a fan of the special conservation order and puts a strict limit on the number of geese his parties can take.

    If there has ever been a waterfowl guru out there, Sherrill is it. I have had the pleasure of hunting with him several times and am blown away by the habitat management on the property he hunts and his focus on small details.

    “There is a such thing as putting too much pressure on the birds and with geese it seems like that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

In 1999 when the special conservation order was put in place Texas hunters took around 370,000 light geese. The next year the harvest only slipped a bit but by the 2007-2008 season it had dropped to around 250,000 birds. The difference is in the number of geese wintering in Texas, which was a big topic of conversation at last March’s Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) Commission hearing.

Speaking to Commissioners, TPWD Migratory Bird Program leader Dave Morrison used Kansas as an example of how snow geese are changing their patterns.

     “…They had 350- to 400,000 birds in their state, they killed 15,000. They're not putting pressure on their birds like we do. We have a mid-winter estimate of around 350-, 400,000 year before last, and we shot about 250,000 birds.”

Think about that for a second. Texas hunters shot more than half of the light geese that wintered in Texas. And according to Morrisson’s testimony there is a direct correlation between the number of pressure here and wintering bird numbers and the lack of pressure elsewhere.

     “Now that's a direct relationship — I understand, that's just the indices compared to population estimates. But the decline, you can see the decline, what's going on. Now, understand that the intent was to cause birds to go down. That was the intent of the expanded and liberal seasons. But the continental population has not gone down. It's simply a Texas problem.”

When asked by Commission Friedkin if biologists were sure the problem was hunting related and Morrison replied as follows.

     “The reasons for the decline are really very — I mean you look at what's going on in Arkansas and Kansas, Kansas had 400,000 birds this year. Typically Texas would winter anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of the white geese in the Central Flyway; now we're down to about 41 percent.”

     “But continental populations have not declined, it's just this Texas portion, that for some reason birds aren't getting to Texas, and we're trying to figure out a way, how do we at least keep those birds here in Texas longer and provide maximum opportunity. We're not suggesting that we're trying to back away from harvest, simply because they're continues to be a continental population, we're just looking at how do we restructure this thing to provide the best possible opportunities.”

     As I sat down to write this story I could not help but think about what I have seen during the 2009-2010 season. During the month of November I drove back and forth from Beaumont to Houston nearly a dozen times and saw geese once. Historically that area has had thousands of geese along Interstate 10.

     What is interesting is the last two years there has been more rice production in the area than at any time in the last decade yet the geese continue to decline. I hunted the area around Garwood during this time and they were holding lots of birds but areas like that are undoubtedly on the decline in Texas. Can this trend be reversed and if so how?

     A closure of the special conservation order? A five-bird limit?

     Only time will tell.

By Chester Moore, Jr. is The News Outdoors Editor. To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at cmoore@fishgame.com. You can hear him on the radio Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI or online at www.klvi.com.)