From one point of view, it’s a wildlife management success story: South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks wanted a population of about 80,000 to 90,000 resident Canada geese raising their broods in South Dakota, and the state now has far more than that.

“Last spring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated the population to be at about 270,000 – so about three times the number of geese that we want in South Dakota are currently here,” says Keith Fisk, administrator for South Dakota’s Wildlife Damage Management Program.

Fisk said that’s a big change from, say, 15 years ago, when Canada geese nesting in the state were rather rare.

Not anymore. In fact the pressure from that growing population of resident waterfowl is changing the way his office does its business, sending state employees on a wild goose chase, literally, in response to an increasing number of complaints of damage caused by Canada geese.

“Historically our agency has always spent more money on deer depredation. Last year was the first year we spent more on Canada geese than on deer,” Fisk said. “Last year our staff spent $717,000 in Canada goose depredation assistance. That’s a record for our office, unfortunately.”

In the fiscal year from July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012, there were only 152 requests for the state to respond to deer damage – considerably lower than in more severe years, Fisk said – but 995 requests to respond to Canada goose damage.

Those aren’t the geese that winter on the open water in Pierre and move farther north in the spring. They are geese that return to South Dakota in about March or April from other states farther south in order to nest.

Fisk said in about the eastern one-third of South Dakota, or from the James River Valley east, those geese are causing havoc in soybean fields in the summer. Especially when molting, the geese find it convenient to feed in soybean fields close to wetlands.

“Those geese are flightless and it’s a gentle slope and they’ll just walk right up into those soybean fields and start to feed,” Fisk said.

Fisk said the ongoing conversion of grassland to crops in eastern South Dakota means the problem is only likely to get worse, not better, since more food will be available.

But there are some tactics that the state’s Wildlife Damage Management Program uses to try to keep the geese from doing so much damage to producers’ fields:

Electric fencing. This works quite well because the real problem time is when the geese are molting and unable to fly, Fisk said. Using one or two white strands of white mylar electric fence, state employees responding to complaints of geese depredation can fence off areas of soybean fields that are under pressure from geese. But the fences pose problems when wind breaks the mylar tape, or where features of the landscape provide locations where geese can hop over.

Chemical deterrent. Fisk said the state is currently working on research with South Dakota State University and USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center in Colorado on testing a chemical deterrent produced by private industry that has the potential to keep the geese from feeding on the crop – if it’s successful. After some promising findings from a study that began in 2010, a new study is under way. The deterrent would be applied to soybean leaves.

“We’re working with a chemical company out on the East Coast called Arkion Life Sciences,” Fisk said. “If – and that’s a big if – if this is actually going to work as well as we hope it does, it’s going to make a big difference for us. And not just for us. North Dakota is in the same boat as we are when it comes to resident Canada geese.”

Volunteer hunters in problem areas. An experimental program will try to use selective hunting pressure in six problem counties – Day, Kingsbury, Brookings, Lake, McCook and Minnehaha – to reduce damage, haze geese out of problem areas and reduce local populations. Volunteer hunters must register for a random drawing to take part, which will allow hunting in the targeted areas in April.

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