Waterfowl hunting is traditionally a winter sport, but goose hunters in Arkansas will have an extra three months to hunt "light geese" (snow geese, blue geese and Ross's geese). A special snow goose conservation season opened on Feb. 2 and extends through April 30.
"Technically, this isn't a special hunting season but a conservation order instead," said Andrew James, waterfowl biologist for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. "Whatever you want to call it, the regulations are relaxed because it's important that hunters be allowed to harvest as many snow geese as they can. There's no daily bag or possession limit on light geese during the conservation order, guns do not have to be plugged, electronic calls can be used and shooting hours have been extended to a half hour before and after sunset," he explained.
According to Alice Browning, head of the commission's license section, nonresident hunters do not need Arkansas nonresident licenses to hunt snow geese during the extended season framework. "Beginning Feb. 2, the only requirements for hunting are a valid hunting license, either from Arkansas or from the hunter's state of residence, and a special snow goose registration number," said Browning. She said hunters may obtain registration numbers free of charge by calling the AGFC at 1-800-364-4263 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Hunters should have available their hunting license number, address and phone number when they call. No duck stamps are required to hunt under the conservation order.
James said the special snow goose conservation season was initiated several years ago and continues this year in an effort to reduce the snow goose population by 50 percent from present levels. Snow goose numbers have expanded more than 300 percent in the last three decades to a current population of approximately 6 million.
"Snow geese overwinter survival rates have increased in response to more favorable feeding conditions on the southern wintering grounds," explained James. "They've increased to the point that they're damaging their nesting habitat in the sub-Arctic and Arctic tundra salt marshes, posing a serious threat to the long-term health of the Arctic ecosystem and its associated wildlife communities. The conservation order, with its relaxed harvest regulations, is an attempt to reduce the population to a more healthy level by allowing hunters the opportunity to harvest more geese."
So far, hunters are taking advantage of the extended hunting opportunity and have taken a surprising number of snow geese in the years since the conservation season began. Waterfowl biologists believe that if that harvest level can be maintained each year until 2005, the snow goose population will be reduced by half, thus reaching a desired population level that won't further damage the fragile tundra nesting habitat.
"This is a unique situation for modern-day waterfowl hunters," says James. "For most species like mallards, Canada geese and pintails, the objective is to limit the harvest to protect the species. With snow geese, the objective is to maximize the harvest, and for exactly the same reason -- to protect the species and other species associated with Arctic tundra habitat," he added.