OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) today canceled a scheduled January brant goose hunting season, after counts of the birds in Skagit County indicated numbers were below the level needed for the hunt to proceed.
The hunt was scheduled for later in January, and would have occurred if at least 6,000 brant were counted during WDFW aerial surveys, said Don Kraege, WDFW waterfowl manager. However, recent aerial surveys of Padilla, Samish, and Fidalgo bays resulted in a count of just 4,880 brant.
Similarly low counts were recorded in 2001, the last time the late-season brant hunt was canceled in Skagit County.
Since 1996, WDFW waterfowl hunting regulations have required that at least 6,000 brant must be present for brant hunting to take place in Skagit County. That threshold is designed to conserve the population of Western High Arctic brant that winter in the area. Conservation of Western High Arctic brant was recommended by an independent scientific review panel formed in 1999 to evaluate brant management in Washington.
Kraege said the causes of the Skagit brant population decline are unknown, but may be the result of poor production on the birds' western Canadian breeding grounds, combined with possible changes in areas of the flyway the brant frequent.
Meanwhile, a brant season in Pacific County will open as scheduled Jan. 18. Season information is listed in the WDFW 2002-03 Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game Seasons pamphlet.
Northwest Washington's declining wintering brant geese populations –– including a potentially separate genetic stock that may be one of the rarest geese in the world –– sent WDFW biologists to the Canadian Arctic this summer on a high-tech research project.
Kraege and WDFW Biologist Mike Davison traveled this summer with Canadian Wildlife Service biologists and Washington Brant Foundation staff to the brant's nesting grounds on Melville Island, in the extreme Canadian north.
The team took genetic samples of western High Arctic birds to help further determine the bird's genetic uniqueness, and attached a variety of identification devices to birds, including satellite-linked transmitters that provide real-time locations for the birds. Study results are expected to be available later this year.