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September 05, 2012 10:00 PM

Troubling Goose Population

The drought isn't the only thing hurting some farmers in South Dakota. Geese are at record numbers and have been on a steady incline over the last few years.

While they may look harmless, they are anything but.

With the increased numbers, farmers are seeing an increase in crop destruction.

They may move with grace and beauty, but that's not what many farmers see when they spot a goose.

"They'll get in the corner of like a bean field and they'll take four or five acres and they'll pull it right out, clip it off right at the ground," Nunda farmer Kenny Hansen said.

In the last six or seven years Hansen's seen an explosion in the goose population.

"It's just getting to be more and more all the time. Every year they just keep getting more populated and we got a, well they're probably second year old ones coming, and they'll breed this summer or this next spring and then they'll really be a problem," Hansen said.

In addition to mowing beans and young corn to the ground, they also snatch feed right out from under his cattle.

"I feed silage year round in this one pasture, I feed the cows there just on the ground and the older geese will come, they're out there right now, and they'll flap their wings and eat the silage, eat the corn out of the silage," Hansen said.

And Hansen's issue is one the Game Fish & Parks Department is taking notice of.

"They've been going up pretty rapidly," Ron Schauer with Game, Fish & Parks said.

Schauer says Canadian Geese numbers were around 98,000 in eastern South Dakota in 2006. In just one year they  jumped to 126,000 and that was just the beginning.

"Now last year 251,000. So its gone up real dramatically in the last two years. We've got good habitat, we've got good water and the geese are doing phenomenal," Schauer said.

As the population goes up, so does the number of complaints from farmers.   

"Their tolerance is pretty low and then this year you throw the drought on top of it and it all affects the farmers bottom line and they're getting hurt pretty hard," Schauer said.

"You can't blame them, they got to have something to eat, but you got to do something about it, too, because there's so many of them," Hansen said.

That's why the GF&P has an arsenal of tools.

"Well they're using electric fences, you know, that's always the big thing and that really helps," Schauer said.

Geese don't fly in the summer because they're growing new feathers, so the fences keep them out.

Schauer says they also have a long term program for producers.  By creating a 100 foot buffer zone around sloughs, they can offer an alternative feed source for geese and also a great place to hunt.

"If we had a buffer around all the wetlands, it was severely, just unbelievably reduce the complaint numbers," Schauer said.

Schauer says their biggest tool is the hunting season itself. There is now an August and a September season along with the normal season. Just this year, they raised the bag limit for the August and September season from eight to 15 Canadian Geese.

"We tried to raise our main season goose bag from three to five, the feds shot it down so we’re still at three there," Schauer said

The GF&P is also funding some promising research at South Dakota State University. Grad student Cody Warner is looking at chemicals farmers can spray on crops to keep geese away.

"In the last two summers we've used four different topical sprays that we actually spray with an ATV sprayer and we basically spray this and we watch how the geese react," Warner said.

Three of those sprays didn't work. But one proved to be quite powerful. 

“What we saw was a very good deterring affect from geese. They would come up and in to out site and they would basically avoid the soybeans that were sprayed," Warner said.

The three that didn't work were designed to taste bad. The one that did work is made to be eaten and causes geese to feel like they're constantly thirsty.

"And all animals and we’re the same way, we can probably figure out through our diet that something isn't working for us," Warner said.

More research is needed, but it could eventually make its way into the GF&P's arsenal and Hansen's field.

"We're looking at everything we can to try and get that population down and bring it under control," Schauer said.

Schauer says they will have spent around $750,000 on goose complaints. They spend more money on goose depredation than any other kind of wildlife.

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