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Special Snow Goose Conservation Season in Pennsylvania - Spring 2016

Location: Statewide; dates vary by goose zone.
Season dates:  Southern James Bay Population goose zone: January 23 - April 22, 2016.  Atlantic Population goose zone: February 1 - April 22, 2016. Resident Population goose zone: March 1 - April 22, 2016. 
Shooting hours: ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset
Bag limits: 25 light 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 2016 Snow Goose Permit. In addition, hunters must complete a harvest report and submit it by May 22, 2016.

Waterfowl hunters will again have a special opportunity to harvest light geese (snow geese and Ross' geese) in Pennsylvania in spring 2016 under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's approved Conservation Order for light 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 light geese, in response to concerns about their growing numbers across North America.

Populations of snow and 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 these delicate habitats, and every species dependent on them.
The Atlantic Flyway population of light geese, composed mostly of "greater" snow geese, increased from approximately 50,000 birds in the mid 1960s to 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 (regular and conservation seasons combined) fluctuates from year to year but have generally increased over the past decade and currently averages about 11,000 per year. During the 2015 Snow Goose Conservation Season, a reported 806 active Pennsylvania hunters harvested 4,684 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 ensure 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. The recent increases in harvest have stabilized the greater snow goose population, but it remains about the management 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 usually occur in early March, with major concentration areas located in Lancaster, Lebanon, Berks, and Lehigh and Montour counties.

Why have snow goose populations increased so dramatically? First, prior to the 1970s 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 had been in place in many Midwestern states and Canadian provinces, including Quebec, since 1999. Pennsylvania waterfowl hunters will be able to continue their participation in this conservation effort.

Under the conservation season 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) during the conservation order period, which begins when the Canada goose season closes in the each of the respective goose hunting zones and extends through April 22, 2016 in all 3 zones. 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 allowed, and hunting hours are from ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset. Hunters must also report their harvest by May 22, 2016 to be eligible for future conservation hunts. For the continuation of the conservation season it remains necessary to obtain estimates of hunter activity and harvest. 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. From the Pennsylvania Game Commission Outdoor Shop, click Permits in the top navigation.

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, and this process will require mailing the permit and report card to the permittee, allow a minimum of one week for processing and mail delivery to obtain a permit.

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Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Ave, Harrisburg Pennsylvania 17110-9797