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Management Plan for the pink-footed goose has surprisingly rapid effect

After just two years of implementing an international adaptive management plan for the pink-footed goose, its population has been reduced to the agreed target of 60,000 geese.

Pink-footed geese at Klemskerke, Belgium. Photo: Roland François
Pink-footed geese at Klemskerke, Belgium. Photo: Roland François

This has been achieved as a result of intensified hunting in both Denmark and Norway, with the backing of the Netherlands and Belgium who are party to the international management plan for the species.

The pink-footed goose breeds on Svalbard and migrates through Norway, wintering in Denmark, Holland and Belgium. In recent decades the population has grown significantly and geese have been causing damage to agricultural crops along the migration route. There are also signs that geese are affecting fragile tundra vegetation in the high arctic breeding grounds.

The international management plan was launched in 2012. It aims to maintain a stable population of about 60,000 geese, in order to minimise damage to agricultural crops and tundra vegetation, whilst maintaining a safety-net underneath the population. Hunting in Norway and Denmark is used to regulate the population size.

"Reaching this goal has been a notable success for the plan, but it's been attained faster than predicted," says Professor Jesper Madsen DCE - Danish Centre for Environment and Energy, Aarhus University, which coordinates the plan. He points out that having achieved this objective discussions will now be held to determine how hunting can be regulated, in agreement between Denmark and Norway. The species is huntable in both these countries but not in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Significantly larger hunting bags

In recent years, when the population totalled up to 82,000 individuals, hunters have had the opportunity to shoot more geese. In Norway and Denmark there have been initiatives to support hunters to improve the organization of goose hunting, so that they can both shoot more geese and minimize wounding. In Denmark, the 2014/15 hunting season for pink-footed geese was extended until the end of January (for hunting on land).

Over the past 10 years hunting bags have increased significantly. Between 2010 and 2014 the average number of pink-footed geese shot in Norway was 2,600 per year and in Denmark it was 8700, i.e. in total 11,300 geese. For the last hunting season, the total hunting bag increased to 14,800, primarily due to Danish goose hunters utilising the January extension of the hunting season. Preliminary calculations of last season’s Danish hunting bag statistics show that 13,200 pink-footed geese were shot, with additional wing collections indicating that half were shot in January 2015. In Norway, the total hunting bag in contrast decreased to 1,600 geese, due to geese passing quickly through Norway during the autumn migration on the way to Denmark.

Adaptive concept

The management plan for the pink-footed goose embraces the principals of adaptive management. This implies that the harvest of pink-footed geese is regularly adjusted, depending on how close the population level is to the target, as well as predicting of how many juveniles are expected to return from their breeding grounds.

Danish, Norwegian, Dutch and Belgian researchers monitor the development of the population and the production of young. In cooperation with American experts an assessment is prepared each summer to determine how many geese can be shot in the coming hunting season to achieve the population target of 60,000 geese and maintain it at this level.

Population census in Norway and Denmark

In early May of this year a synchronized population count was carried out in Norway and Denmark where, at this time of year, the population is concentrated. This assessment of the population indicates it is now down to 59,000 birds, a decrease of 22 percent compared to the year before. This decrease is mainly due to increased hunting, but there was also a poor breeding season on Svalbard in the preceding summer of 2014. Researchers had expected that the increased pressure of hunting would reduce the population level, but that it would take about three years before the population target 60,000 was reached.

"To everyone's surprise, the goal is already reached after just one season with increased hunting pressure," says Jesper Madsen and continues: "Why the fall happened so abruptly, is still an open question, and we must start to re-evaluate the population models, which are behind the assessments. However, in the last few years there have also been some very rapid changes in the migratory behaviour of geese in the spring. This means that they are not able to achieve optimal weight gains, essential for their chances of breeding successfully. The models have not yet picked this up. "

View of a rather poor breeding season


Weather conditions on Svalbard in May give a clue about how good the breeding season will be for geese: a warm May affords early snow melt, which gives geese a chance to get started quickly with breeding. This is a great advantage in the short Arctic summer season. However, conditions in May this year have not favourable, so the assessment is that there will be a rather poor breeding season. This means the surplus for hunters in Norway and Denmark to harvest in the coming hunting season will be correspondingly smaller.

The prediction is that in the upcoming hunting season 6,700 geese may be shot, if the population target is to be maintained. If hunting is maintained at current levels, the population will go significantly below the agreed target.

It is now up to the authorities along with hunting organizations in Denmark and Norway to discuss how hunting of pink-footed geese can be tempered for the forthcoming season and how the harvest bag is to be shared between the two countries. This is the first time in European wildlife management that countries jointly agree on common hunting management and together adjust hunting pressure.

The international management plan for the pink-footed goose is conducted under the auspices of Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) under the Convention on Migratory Species and is described in detail here: pinkfootedgoose.aewa.info


Contact: Professor Jesper Madsen, tel. +45 2944 0204, jm@bios.au.dk 
              DCE - Danish Centre for Environment and Energy
              Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University

The Nature Agency is responsible Danish authority on wildlife management. Contact: Henrik Lykke Sørensen, tel. +45 7254 3523, hls@nst.dk


Svalbard Pink-footed Goose. Population Status Report 2014-2015. Madsen, J., Cottaar, F., Amstrup, O., Asferg, T., Bak, M., Bakken, J., Christensen, T.K.,Gundersen, O.M., Kjeldsen, J.P., Kuijken, E., Reinsborg, T., Shimmings, P., Tombre, I. & Verscheure, C. 2015. Aarhus University, DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy, 16 pp. Technical Report from DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy No. 58.

Summary Report in PDF format (0,65 MB) 

Nota Bene: The preliminary report describing the optimum hunting strategy for the upcoming hunting season can be ordered contacting Jesper Madsen via email: jm@bios.au.dk (please write ‘Harvest report request’ in the subject field).