Location: Statewide by goose zone.
Season dates: Southern James Bay goose zone: January 19 - April 26, 2013. Atlantic goose zone: January 28 - April 26, 2013. Resident Population goose zone: March 1 - April 26, 2013.
Shooting hours: ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset
Bag limits: 25 snow geese per day, no possession limit
Special hunting methods allowed: Electronic calls and decoys
Non-toxic shot: Required
Requirements to participate: Current Pennsylvania hunting license, federal duck stamp (for individuals 16 and older), Pennsylvania Migratory Game Bird license, and a free 2013 Snow Goose Permit. In addition hunters must complete a harvest report and submit it by May 28, 2013.
Waterfowl hunters in Pennsylvania will again have a special opportunity to harvest snow geese in Pennsylvania in spring 2013. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved a Conservation Order for snow geese. A Conservation Order is a special management action authorized by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act to control certain wildlife populations when traditional management programs are unsuccessful in reducing overabundant wildlife populations. Federal and state regulations allow for additional harvest of snow geese, in response to concerns about their growing numbers across North America.
Populations of snow & Ross geese, collectively referred to as "light geese" because of their white plumage, have reached levels that are causing extensive and possibly irreversible damage to their, as well as other nesting birds', fragile arctic and sub-arctic tundra breeding grounds. Large numbers of snow geese feeding on natural vegetation can also destroy large areas of coastal marshland during migration and winter. Serious damage to agricultural crops, such as hay, winter wheat, barley and rye, occurs on migration and wintering areas as well. Returning the snow goose population to sustainable levels is necessary to protect this delicate habitat, and every species dependent on it.
The Atlantic Flyway population of light geese, composed mostly of "greater" snow geese, increased from approximately 50,000 birds in the mid 1960s approximately one million birds in recent years. Most of these birds pass through Pennsylvania during spring and fall migrations and spend the winter in New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. Waterfowl managers concerned about the impacts of too many snow geese, have recommended a population goal of 500,000 in the Atlantic Flyway.
The only practical way to reduce the population to that level is to increase annual hunter harvest, which in recent years has averaged nearly 180,000 birds in the U.S. and Canadian portions of the Atlantic flyway. Pennsylvania's snow goose harvest has been steadily increasing over the past decade averaging about 13,000 per year. During the 2012 Snow Goose Conservation Season, a reported 568 active Pennsylvania hunters harvested 3,420 snow geese. The conservation season has been designed not to threaten the long-term status of the snow geese. Waterfowl managers will carefully monitor the status of snow geese annually to insure the population is not overharvested. Once the population has been reduced the conservation season may be terminated or modified to keep the population at the stated goal.
Pennsylvania has had a long hunting season, consisting of 107 days, for many years, but until recently federal regulations did not allow the season to be open after March 10, when large numbers of snow geese begin migrating north from their wintering areas. From mid-February to late March, more than 100,000 snow geese may spend time in Pennsylvania, fueling up for their return to the arctic breeding grounds in May. Peak numbers occur in early March, with major concentration areas located in Lancaster and Lebanon counties, with lesser number in Berks, Lehigh and Montour counties.
Why have snow goose populations increased so dramatically? First, prior to the 1970's snow geese fed primarily on natural wetland plants in mid-Atlantic coastal areas. Then they discovered an abundant food resource. Waste grains on agricultural fields provided a vast new food supply for these birds. Second, continuation of restrictive hunting regulations during the 1970s and 1980s allowed the population to grow while hunter harvest rates declined. These two factors resulted in a higher reproductive rate, a higher adult survival rate, and offspring that were in much better condition to survive.
Concern about the overabundance of snow geese has been growing for years. An international "Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group" concluded in 1998 that action was needed to limit the greater snow goose population. A goal of 500,000 birds has since been established for the Atlantic Flyway. However, it took more than a decade to fully implement the recommendations of this group. In November 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized rules establishing a Conservation Order and allowing the use of special hunting methods to increase the harvest of light geese across the country. Similar regulations have been in place in many Midwestern states and Canadian Provinces, including Quebec, since 1999. Harvest of light geese has more than doubled in those areas and the population growth rate has been reduced. Now, Pennsylvania waterfowl hunters will again be able to participate in this conservation effort.
Under the new regulations, Pennsylvania hunters, that have a general hunting license, Federal Duck Stamp (required if over 16 years of age), a Pennsylvania Migratory Bird License and a PA snow goose conservation permit, may take snow geese and Ross' geese (a smaller but nearly identical species) statewide through April 26, 2013. All migratory game bird hunting regulations and requirements apply to the taking of snow geese during the conservation season, except that use of recorded or electrically amplified calls or sounds and electronic decoys powered or operated by batteries or electricity are is allowed. Hunting hours during the conservation season are from ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset. Hunters must also report their harvest by May 28, 2013 to be eligible for future conservation hunts. For the continuation of the conservation season it will be necessary to obtain estimates of hunter activity and harvest and the extent to which the additional methods have allowed hunters to take more geese. Hunters interested in participating in this season must obtain a free permit and harvest report card. Permits and snow goose report cards can be obtained by submitting an online application via "The Outdoor Shop" on the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Click on General Store on the top navigation, select Visit The Outdoor Shop.
Permits and the required report card also can be obtained by calling the Game Commission at the Harrisburg headquarters (717-787-4250) and asking for the Bureau of Wildlife Management. However, since the agency is unsure of how many hunters will use this alternative application means, this process will require mailing the permit and report card to the permitee, allow a minimum of one week for processing and mail delivery to obtain a permit.