HOW THE ALEUTIAN GEESE WERE GUNNED––FEDS BLAMED FOXES
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1999:
WASHINGTON D.C. – –
There was a story behind the story,
mentioned only in passing, when U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service on July 30
proposed dropping Aleutian Canada
geese from Endangered Species Act
protection, as recovered, with a population
now estimated at 32,000.
As USFWS told media, trappers
and fur farmers introduced foxes
to the 190 islands of the Aleutians
where the Canada goose subspecies
nests, beginning in 1750. The most
vigorous epoch of fox introduction was
1915-1930. By 1938 the Aleutian
goose had vanished, though closely
related species survived in Siberia.
Believing Canada geese of
some sort could be brought back to the
Aleutians, the USFWS with encouragement
from Ducks Unlimited, the
National Wildlife Federation, and other
hunting-oriented conservation groups
began trying to kill all the foxes in
1949. The last of the foxes were reportedly
trapped and shot in 1997.
USFWS and most reportage
credited extirpating the foxes for the
Aleutian goose recovery.
But that isn’t how it really
happened. In truth, USFWS until
recently regarded subspecies of Canada
goose as biologically interchangable,
and only amended that outlook in the
early 1990s, in response to growing
complaints about nuisance resident
Canada geese in urban neighborhoods.
Descended from giant Canada
geese raised by hunting clubs as live
decoys until that practice was banned in
1936, the resident geese were actually
introduced to most of their present habitat
by USFWS during the 1950s
through the 1970s, as part of an ongoing
effort to restore huntable migratory
populations. Outside hunting season,
they were protected by the 1918 Migratory
Bird Treaty Act––until reclassifed
as a nonmigratory subspecies.
Some of the giant geese were
taken to Anchorage, and might have
been taken to the Aleutians too, except
that in 1962 one last flock of about 800
Aleutian Canada geese was found on
Buldir Island in the western Aleutians.
They were listed as endangered in
1967, under the 1966 Endangered
Species Protection Act, forerunner to
the 1973 ESA now in effect.
There were still only 788
Aleutian Canada geese as of 1975,
when USFWS first officially counted
them, traced their flyway, and learned
that about 98% wintered among some
40 duck hunting clubs which for 80-odd
years had rented shooting blinds on two
large ranches in the San Joaquin Valley
of north-central California, near
Sacramento. Human hunters rather
than foxes may have been their deadliest
predators all along.
The real recovery of the
Aleutian geese began after 1975, when
––with almost all North American
waterfowl in steep decline, and at
reported request of USFWS––ranchers
Bill Lyons and Robert Gallo, of the
Gallo wine empire, began terminating
the hunting leases.