November 1, 2017
Silhouette of geese. Photo by Michael R. Jeffords.

Recent Changes in Management and Hunting of Canada Geese in Illinois: Part 2—Giant Canada Geese

By Dan Holm, Randy Smith

While Mississippi Valley Population (MVP) geese slowly declined over the course of several decades, the Temperate Breeding Population (TBP), or “resident Giant” Canada geese, was steadily increasing in number. Giant Canada geese once bred throughout the Midwest. However, following European settlement these geese steadily declined until they were thought to be an extinct subspecies.

Canada goose with leg band
Canada goose with leg band. Photo by Jim Kennedy.

In 1962, Harold Hanson, a researcher with the Illinois Natural History Survey and Canada goose expert, found a small remnant population of “Giants” near Rochester, Minnesota. These geese were captured, bred and reintroductions began throughout the eastern U.S. Once thought to only thrive in the wildest of places, these geese quickly adapted to a vastly different and more populated landscape, successfully breeding everywhere from rural farm ponds and lakes to the most urban of city parks, golf courses, subdivisions and nearly all points in between. The population quickly grew from only a handful of geese in the 1960s to more than 1.5 million today.

In Illinois, Giant Canada goose reintroduction and relocation efforts were successful in increasing the population. By 1998, the population rose to more than 100,000, and in 2008 the population reached a maximum of nearly 140,000. Numbers have since stabilized at slightly more than 100,000 TBP Canada geese in Illinois.

Although TBP geese have caused management challenges because of their close association with humans, they are important to waterfowl hunters. Currently, 12 of the 14 states in the Mississippi Flyway harvest a greater number of TBP geese than migrant Interior geese. Only Illinois and Wisconsin still harvest more MVP geese than TBP geese. Because of their high numbers and wide distribution, TBPs alleviate some of the hunting pressure on MVP and other Interior Canada geese.

Canada goose and gossling
Canada goose and gosling.

In response to recent changes in TBP and Interior Canada goose population status and harvest, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has liberalized Canada goose hunting regulations by increasing daily bag limits and expanding seasons. Prior to 2016, Illinois and most other states could only offer a maximum of two Canada geese per day when using the longest season allowable, or three per day if shorter seasons were selected. In 2016, several states in the Mississippi Flyway offered extended regular Canada goose seasons with a three birds per day bag limit. However, because Illinois relies on MVP geese to make up approximately 50 percent of the statewide Canada goose harvest and Illinois hunters generally harvest 25 to 30 percent of all MVP geese shot in the Mississippi Flyway, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) maintained the current regular season structure of a daily bag limit of two Canada geese.

Managers and biologists have significant concerns that additional harvest pressure on MVP geese wintering in Illinois may lead to greater population decline, and thus lowered future harvest opportunity. IDNR, along with other state and federal agencies, will continue to monitor Canada goose harvest through band returns and other methods. If evidence indicates that harvest has shifted to a greater proportion of TBP geese, or MVP numbers increase sufficiently to support greater harvest, IDNR will consider further liberalization of Canada goose hunting regulations.

Randy Smith is the IDNR Division of Wildlife Resources Wetland Wildlife Program Manager, and Dan Holm is the IDNR Division of Wildlife Resources Waterfowl Project Manager.


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