Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Exploding Arctic Snow Geese Numbers Stabilizing, but Still High

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Exploding Arctic Snow Geese Numbers Stabilizing, but Still High

Article excerpt

Exploding snow geese numbers stabilizing

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After more than a decade of devastating huge swaths of Arctic tundra, booming populations of snow geese may have finally stabilized.

But scientists say the teeming flocks, which have turned fertile grasslands into salty mud flats, are still at unheard-of levels and have forced wildlife managers to consider a whole new problem.

"We've always wanted more (wildlife) and protected them and saved them and increased their numbers," said Dave Duncan, manager of population conservation for the Canadian Wildlife Service. "Just in the last little while wildlife management is faced with this new conundrum of overabundant species.

"How do we deal with it?"

In the last 20 years, new farming methods have resulted in better food supply along the big white birds' migration routes and their population has responded.

In the 1970s and '80s, there were between two million and three million snow geese in central North America. Now there are about 15 million.

Nesting colonies now are so large the birds are destroying their own habitat.

"It's incredible," said the National Wildlife Research Centre's Paul Smith, who studies the birds on Nunavut's Southampton Island.

"In the spring, when the ground is wet, they'll dig up what's called the rhizome of the grass, the starchy root. Once they've grazed the grass down to such a short level that it's not useful to them any more, they dig up this starchy root.

"They'll convert an area that was once covered in grass to exposed mud. When this mud is left exposed, the evaporation rate goes up and you get this salt crust on the top. Then it's very difficult for plants to recolonize those areas."

In the Queen Maud Bird Sanctuary along the central Nunavut coast, ground exposed by the birds went from 200 square kilometres in 1988 to about 1,300 square kilometres by 2011.

Years of relaxed hunting rules up and down the migration route didn't help much.

But something seems to have finally stalled growth, says Environment Canada scientist Ray Alisauskas. …

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