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North Dakota looks to extend early Canada goose season in parts of state

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is proposing to extend the early Canada goose season by as much as seven days next year in all but the Missouri River Goose Zone and a new zone north of Lake Sakakawea.

Mike Szymanski, North Dakota Game and Fish Department
Mike Szymanski, North Dakota Game and Fish Department

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is proposing to extend the early Canada goose season by as much as seven days next year in all but the Missouri River Goose Zone and a new zone north of Lake Sakakawea.

In order to move the days, the department needs to shave up to seven days from the end of the regular season in most of the state to stay within the 107-day season framework mandated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which sets migratory bird season lengths and bag limits.

With the proposed change, the early season would end as late as Sept. 22 instead of Sept. 15, which is when this year's early season closed in most of the state. The early season would continue to open in mid-August.

In areas where the season is extended in September, the regular Canada goose season then would close in mid-December.

According to Mike Szymanski, migratory game bird management supervisor for Game and Fish in Bismarck, the department received approval from the Fish and Wildlife Service to add days to the early season in an effort to further curb overabundant populations of resident giant Canada geese.

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North Dakota has an estimated population of 300,000 resident giant Canada geese, compared with about 50,000 geese 15 years ago, Szymanski said.

"We feel we can provide pretty good hunting opportunities" by extending the early season, he said.

North Dakota hunters in recent years have shot about 200,000 to 250,000 Canada geese.

When North Dakota first offered an early Canada goose season about 15 years ago, Szymanski said, there was concern that continuing the early season too late into September would increase the harvest of little Canada geese, a migratory subspecies.

Since then, though, populations of resident giant Canada geese have continued to grow and cause depredation problems, and migratory little Canada geese aren't arriving until later in the fall, Szymanski said.

"They're not showing up in our bag in early October and late September during our regular waterfowl season, so we felt pretty confident-and the service was agreeable-to letting us extend the season a week," Szymanski said. "That's why we have it available now and not before."

A few adjustments

To accommodate the additional days in September without hampering late-season opportunities in parts of the state that hold geese later in December, the department would create a new zone north of Lake Sakakawea, Szymanski said. Additionally, the Missouri River Goose Zone will be expanded west to include a small area west and north of Beulah, N.D.

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Season frameworks for the Missouri River Goose Zone won't change under the proposal. The early goose season in the Missouri River Zone this year closed Sept. 7, and the regular season continues through Dec. 30.

The early goose season in the area north of Lake Sakakawea will close Sept. 15, and the regular season will continue through Dec. 22.

"It will be kind of a staggered deal with closing dates across the state because of differences in numbers of geese early vs. where we have more late-season opportunities," Szymanski said. "We stop earlier in September along the Missouri River because it's just not very good, and we don't have as many conflicts with crop depredation. Farther north along the lake, the late-season opportunities aren't as good, but there's a fair bit of crop depredation and a decent amount of September opportunity, so we wanted to keep what we currently have in place up there.

"Finally, in the eastern part of the state, where we have quite a bit of conflict with Canada geese and very little late-season hunting, we add a week into September and close earlier in December."

It's all about maximizing opportunities when-and where-the potential for killing giant Canada geese is best.

"We want to keep trying to reduce that number, and we want to provide hunting opportunity where we think we can provide hunting opportunity," Szymanski said. "I think a lot of hunters will be really happy to find out they can hunt Canadas later in September."

Resident giant Canadas are extremely prolific, Szymanski said, and maintaining hunting pressure is essential to keeping their numbers in check.

"We have to keep our foot on the pedal with Canada geese so that we don't get a number that's even bigger," he said.

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The early season bag limit is 15 daily, with a possession limit of 45. The statewide regular season bag limit is eight daily with 24 in possession, and the Missouri River Zone regular season limit is five daily and 15 in possession.

Statewide meetings

The early goose season proposal was part of the Game and Fish Department's presentations this past week during the fall round of advisory board meetings, including Wednesday night's meeting for District 4 in Fordville, N.D.

Game and Fish holds the meetings twice a year in each of the state's eight advisory board districts.

The department also discussed other topics at the meetings, including:

• Game and Fish is planning to offer a limited season on river otters and will discuss further plans during the spring round of statewide advisory board meetings.

• Potential outdoors legislation that could surface when the North Dakota Legislature convenes Jan. 3 includes limits on raffle big game tags, a no-trespassing bill, legislation to allow dogs to help locate wounded or dead deer and lifetime fishing licenses. Game and Fish again this session will offer regular updates on the status of outdoors legislation on its website at gf.nd.gov.

Bad weather forced Game and Fish to postpone the fall advisory board meetings across the state at least once, and in some cases twice. Two meetings remain: Monday night in Watford City and Tuesday night in Cando, N.D.

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Canada geese
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is hoping to increase the harvest of resident giant Canada geese by extending the early season by up to seven days in most of the state beginning next year. In exchange, the regular season in most of the state would close up to a week earlier. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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