When settlers moved to the northern plains in the 1880s, including northeast South Dakota, they became acquainted with existing flocks of Canada geese and used them for sustenance.
As time went on and the numbers of the geese declined, people took an interest in the large geese, and the Rommel family from near Bitter Lake donated a flock to the Waubay National Wildlife Refuge. Management, including laws and regulations, of the subspecies began in 1961 by Game, Fish and Parks.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Game, Fish and Parks began managing the Waubay flock, which was nesting in Day, Roberts and Marshall counties.
Although the Canada Goose Restoration Program included releasing birds in areas of South Dakota, no birds were ever released in Day, Marshall or Roberts counties, said Paul Mammenga, waterfowl biologist. They existed in remnant numbers around the Waubay National Wildlife Refuge and grew on their own. The Waubay flock was never part of the restoration effort because it was, and is, a natural population. There was no need to release any geese because they were already there.
Today, the descendants of those geese have worn out their welcome on Day County's wheat, corn and soybean fields. Hundreds of geese feeding at one time on a cultivated field can simulate work done by a huge lawnmower.
In addition to large numbers of Giant Canada geese, landscape changes have definitely occurred, compounding depredation problems. Fields that used to be grass or pasture are now planted with corn and soybeans. More intensive agriculture and having more grain adjacent to wetlands than ever before makes it very difficult to keep geese from depredating.
GFP suggested solutions, such as automatic firing cannons set up in fields, electric fences around field perimeters and planting buffer strips on creek banks, but to no avail. Even random shotgun firing did not deter the big geese.
Early Canada goose hunting opportunities the last three years in August and September with large daily limits have not accomplished immediate reduction goals. More than $717,000 was spent in 2012 to reduce crop damage caused by resident Canada geese, and since 2000, the GFP has spent more than $4.3 million on Canada goose depredation.
During spring 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated a spring population index of nearly 270,000 resident Canada geese in South Dakota.
Our management plan sets the population objective at 80,000 to 90,000, said Tony Leif, wildlife division director.
A newly designed spring Canada goose program will attempt to reduce numbers.
We hope to accomplish this by reducing localized goose numbers and by inducing geese to move away from these problem areas, Leif said.
GFP sought volunteers to harvest resident Canada geese during this spring on locations with chronic depredation problems. Needing 140 applicants to fill the requirement, the department was surprised to receive over 1,300 applications. The program is open in six counties in the eastern part of the state: Kingsbury, McCook, Lake, Minnehaha, Brookings and Day. The program will open April 1 and close April 30.
Day County is the depredation hot bed, said Keith Fisk, wildlife damage program administrator.
More than $226,000 was spent in Day County in 2012 for goose depredation.
Since there is such a large number of geese in Day County, we are taking an experimental approach and focused our efforts in the most chronic county.
More than 100 landowners are participating in Day County, where 75,000 acres of private land are open to 90 hunters. Southern counties will have 50 hunters on identified properties, about eight to 10 hunters per county.
Selected hunters will be provided maps with all properties identified on them, Fisk said. Hunters can go to any identified property, hunting one place on one day and hunting another place the next day. Each selected hunter can take up to three other hunters with him. Each selected hunter, or his party, is limited to 50 total geese each.
Volunteers are limited to either pass or jump shooting, as per federal Fish and Wildlife Service regulations. Use of decoys, calls and blinds are prohibited under this federal permit.
Harvested geese must be donated to the Sportsmen Against Hunger program to feed hungry families across South Dakota, Fisk said.
A list of local processors will be included with each volunteer's permit.