Goose population decline stumps scientists

Posted: Monday, November 05, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Biologists in charge of goose-reduction programs in Anchorage said they don't know why the Canada goose population declined so much this summer.

Fish and Game biologist Mike Petrula estimated that about 2,300 geese were in the Anchorage Bowl this July. That's significantly down from the 29,000 in town the previous July.

What's puzzling is that the programs in place shouldn't have caused such a rapid population drop, said Karen Laing, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

''It's dropped faster than we would have predicted from the actions we've taken,'' Laing told the Anchorage Daily News. ''We don't fully understand the reasons it's done that.''

Goose reduction became a goal after a jet taking off from Elmendorf Air Force Base in 1995 crashed, killing 24 people. The cause of the crash was blamed on several geese that were sucked into the plane's engines.

The resulting programs include hazing geese and growing less goose-friendly vegetation around Anchorage airfields. They also include collecting eggs from nests in targeted areas and transplanting goslings from Anchorage to the Susitna Flats State Game Refuge across Knik Arm.

Biologists said the numbers of geese hazed and killed at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and Elmendorf Air Force Base were down this year from last year. Fewer goslings were relocated, and fewer eggs were collected.

This helps explain the decrease in young birds they have seen, Petrula said, but it doesn't explain the decrease in adult geese.

Despite the uncertainty, the agencies will ''keep doing what we're doing,'' Laing said.

''We're happy that the population is around where the agencies had agreed was a reasonable number,'' she said. ''We like to have geese in Anchorage, but not so many that people hate them and they're a danger at the airports.''

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