A geese census in Tri-Cities

An ongoing study by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists could yield clues to the decline of goose nesting in some rural areas of Eastern Washington that led to the closure of the September goose season.

For the second year, Mikal Moore, a waterfowl specialist for the department, and other biologists brought nets Friday to the Tri-Cities to trap, band and collar Canada geese as part of a five-year research program into the lifestyles of urban and rural geese.

Biologists and volunteers caught nearly 300 geese at Columbia Park in Kennewick and at Wade Park in Pasco, noting the age and sex of each captured bird before attaching a leg band.

Adult geese also were fitted with white neck collars with visible numbers and codes, which will allow biologists and bird watchers to track them by sight year-round. The banding was timed to occur while geese were molting and thus unable to fly.

Moore said biologists and volunteers had hoped to recapture some of the 309 geese that were banded in 2008 in the Tri-Cities to help in determining annual survival and hunter harvest.

Up to 500 Canada geese will be captured and banded this year in the Tri-Cities, Grant County, Sprague Lake, the Pend Oreille River in northern Washington, and locations in Spokane, Wenatchee, Chelan and Yakima, Moore said.

Biologists will compare migration, reproduction and hunter harvest of urban and rural geese through returns of bands and collar-sighting reports.

The information could help explain a seven-year decline in rural goose nesting counts, which led the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission this spring to cancel the two-day September goose hunt in Eastern Washington. The Department of Fish and Wildlife said it will recommend the commission move the federally allotted two days to the October-January goose season when it sets the fall waterfowl hunting dates in August.

"We're seeing declines in traditional nesting areas, but in urban areas, our counts are going up," Moore said.

There are no accurate estimates of the urban Canada goose population in Eastern Washington, one of the reasons the department undertook the study last year. It also had been at least 15 years since the department had looked at locally breeding goose populations in Eastern Washington, Moore said.

"It's important for us to figure out the role urban birds play in a hunting season," Moore said.

Of the 422 geese marked last year in Eastern Washington, about 30 percent were harvested during the early September goose season, Moore said. Most of the birds tagged in the Tri-Cities last year and killed by hunters were recovered locally, she said.

"It seems these Tri-Cities birds are getting some hunting exposure," she said.

In all, 41 bands from tagged birds last year were returned to wildlife managers, and there were numerous sightings of collared geese. And a half-dozen geese tagged in Spokane last year were harvested by hunters in Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada.

Bird watchers who see collared geese or hunters who shoot a banded goose should report the number, along with the location and date, to the U.S. Geological Services Bird Banding Laboratory at 1-800-327-BAND or online at www.pwrc.usgs.gov/BBL/homepage/call800.htm

* Kevin McCullen: 509-582-1535; kmccullen@tricityherald.com