ALEUTIAN CANADA GOOSE POPULATIONS FULLY RECOVERED; DELISTING EXPECTED SOON
Thanks to recovery efforts spanning more than three decades and as many continents, the Aleutian Canada goose has fully recovered and is expected to be removed soon from the federal list of threatened and endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today.
A subspecies of small Canada geese found only on a few of Alaska's remote, windswept Aleutian Islands and in areas of California and Oregon, Aleutian Canada geese numbered only in the hundreds in the mid-1970s. Through unprecedented cooperation with foreign nations and state governments, and in partnership with private landowners and organizations, the Service was able to slowly bring the bird back. Today, biologists estimate there are about 37,000 Aleutian Canada geese, and that the threat of extinction has passed.
When it is officially delisted, the Aleutian Canada goose will be the twelfth species removed from the list of threatened and endangered species due to recovery.
"As we have proved with species as diverse as the peregrine falcon, the American alligator and the Palau ground dove, the Endangered Species Act is an effective tool not only to bring species back from the brink of extinction but also to recover them to full health," said Anne Badgley, Regional Director of the Service's Pacific Region, which includes California. "All Americans should be proud of what we have accomplished under this landmark law."
In California's Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, and along the northern California coast, private landowners manage their lands to provide wintering habitat for Aleutian Canada geese.
"Their efforts, in addition to the Service's land acquisitions and conservation easements, provide thousands of acres of wintering habitat crucial to the recovery of the Aleutian Canada goose," said Michael J. Spear, manager of the Service's California-Nevada Operations Office in Sacramento.
The Service's Pacific and Alaska regions have worked closely with private groups and landowners to recover the Aleutian Canada goose, which breeds in the Aleutian Islands and winters in California, stopping along the migration at points on the Oregon coast.
"The story of the Aleutian Canada goose is a real success story," said David B. Allen, the Service's Regional Director for Alaska. "The recovery of this unique bird shows how effective the Endangered Species Act can be through work with partners, and through innovative scientific techniques and on-the-ground cooperation."
The Aleutian Canada goose, identifiable by a distinctive white neck-band, nests on islands within the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Biologists trace the decline of the subspecies back as far as 1750 when fur-farmers and trappers began introducing non-native foxes on more than 190 islands within the goose's nesting range in Alaska. The fox introductions hit their peak from 1915 to 1936, when fur demand was high. The foxes preyed heavily upon the birds, which had no natural defenses against land predators on the previously mammal-free islands. Scientists recorded no sightings of Aleutian Canada geese from 1938 until 1962, when Service biologists discovered a remnant population on rugged, remote Buldir Island in the western Aleutians. Scientists believe Buldir was fox-free because its rocky, stormy coast was difficult to approach.
The Aleutian Canada goose was one of the first species or subspecies to be protected under the Endangered Species Act, passed in 1973. The first accurate count of the birds in 1975 revealed only 790 individuals. In the early 1980s, biologists found small numbers of breeding geese on two other islands.
For the past 35 years, biologists have worked to eliminate introduced foxes from former nesting islands and to reintroduce geese. The removal of these predators has benefitted many other bird species on the islands, including puffins, murres, and auklets. Besides removing foxes, the Service and state wildlife agencies closed Aleutian Canada goose hunting in wintering and migration areas, banded birds on the breeding grounds to identify important wintering and migrations areas, and released families of wild geese caught on Buldir Island on other fox-free islands in the Aleutians.
In California, the Service has worked extensively with local landowners in cooperative partnerships to protect and manage wintering habitat on private land through fee title acquisition, easements and voluntary programs. Important wintering and migration habitat in California and Oregon also has been acquired as national wildlife refuges.
As a direct result of these recovery activities, the population increased to 6,300 birds by 1990, enough to allow the Service to reclassify the subspecies from endangered to threatened. The recovery continued through the 1990s, with new populations firmly established on Agattu, Alaid and Nizki islands in the western Aleutians.
Although the overall population of Aleutian Canada geese is now nearly five times greater than the Service's recovery goal, the additional objective of having 50 or more pairs of Aleutian Canada geese nesting in each of three geographic parts of its historic range (western Aleutians other than Buldir Island, central Aleutians, and the Semidi Islands) has yet to be fully met. The numbers of geese nesting in the central Aleutians and in the Semidi Islands are stable, but probably remain below the 50-pair objective. The Service's decision to delist the subspecies is based primarily on the strength of the bird's recovery in the western Aleutian Islands.
While the species continues to rebound in the western Aleutians, Russian scientists are conducting an ongoing program to reestablish Aleutian Canada geese in the Asian portion of the birds' range. So far, Russian biologists have released 86 geese on Ekarma Island in the northern Kuril Islands. Japanese scientists have observed several of these birds on the wintering grounds in Japan.
Conservation and management of winter and migration habitat in California and Oregon remains a high priority for the Service and for the California and Oregon state governments. In addition to acquiring certain lands used by the geese, the Service and the State of California are working to reduce competition between geese and humans on other privately owned cropland and pastures.
The Service is required under ESA to monitor Aleutian Canada goose populations for at least five years. The Service will pay particularly close attention to the small number of geese that nest in the Semidi Islands and winter on the north coast of Oregon. While the goose will no longer be protected under the provisions of ESA, the subspecies is still protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Other U.S. and U.S. territorial species that have, to date, recovered enough to be removed from listing under the Endangered Species Act, and the dates of their delistings, are as follows: American alligator (1987), American peregrine falcon (1999), Arctic peregrine falcon (1994), brown pelican (Atlantic coast population, 1985), Palau ground dove (1985), Palau fantail flycatcher (1985), Palau owl (1985), and gray whale (1994). In addition, the eastern gray kangaroo (1995), western gray kangaroo (1995), and red kangaroo (1995) have been delisted.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 530 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.