Nearly 1,000 hunters have applied to be part of a limited special hunt next month that will target Canada geese in six eastern South Dakota counties, far exceeding the expectations of state officials.
There are only 140 slots available. The Game, Fish and Parks Department will randomly select hunters and notify them by the end of next week.
Canada geese cause problems for farmers by feasting on crops such as corn and soybeans, particularly when they are molting and unable to fly. Since 2000, the state has spent more than $4.3 million fighting the problem through efforts such as chemical deterrents and electric fences.
"Last spring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated the population to be at about 270,000 - so about three times the number of geese that we want in South Dakota are currently here," said Keith Fisk, administrator of the state's Wildlife Damage Management Program.
"Historically our agency has always spent more money on deer depredation. Last year was the first year we spent more on Canada geese than on deer," he said. "Last year our staff spent $717,000 in Canada goose depredation assistance. That's a record for our office, unfortunately."
An ongoing conversion of grassland to crops in eastern South Dakota prompted by high crop prices means the problem is likely to get worse, according to Fisk.
The special hunt in designated areas of Day, Kingsbury, Brookings, Lake, McCook and Minnehaha counties is April 1-30. The birds will be donated to the Sportsmen Against Hunger program, which helps feed the hungry.
Each of the 140 chosen hunters will be allowed to kill up to 50 Canada geese. They can designate up to three people to help them. Since it is technically a wildlife management action and not a hunt, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - which has oversight of migratory waterfowl - won't allow the use of decoys, calls or blinds. Officials expect hunters to bag only about half of the maximum 7,000 geese allowed, according to Fisk.
"This is brand new, it's never been done before, so we've got a lot to learn," he said.