Snow Goose

There are 5 populations of Snow geese within the AGJV:  Greater, Midcontinent Lesser, Western Central flyway Snow and Ross’s, Western Arctic Lesser, Wrangel Island Lesser.

 Snow Goose

For general information on Snow geese, see the following links:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

National Audubon Society  


Range map of Western Arctic Lesser, Greater and Ross's Geese
(from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)




Range map of Wrangler Island, Western Central Flyway and Midcontinent Lesser Snow Geese
(from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Greater Snow Goose


Current Status and Management Issues for Greater Snow Geese

Wildlife managers have been challenged since the mid 1980s with the explosion of the Greater Snow goose population. This unprecedented population increase over the past few decades brings potential negative consequences for the geese themselves and for other cohabiting plants and animals (Abraham and Jefferies 1997).  The Arctic Goose Joint Venture was concerned that breeding grounds might suffer the same consequences as observed for Lesser Snow geese (Giroux et al. 1998b). Consequently, in 1998-99, a series of special conservation measures were applied to stop population growth and stabilize population size.  These special measures were implemented to increase harvest by the liberalization of bag and possession limits and hunting methods during existing harvest seasons and the implementation of a spring conservation harvest in Québec (Giroux et al. 1998a).

Following the implementation of these special conservation measures, the growth in abundance of the Greater Snow goose population was quickly stopped (Reed and Calvert 2007). The spring conservation harvest in Québec, which was intended to be temporary until the population was once again under control, was the most effective at reducing population growth through its direct (survival) and indirect (fecundity) effects on adult breeders (Calvert and Gauthier 2005).  Spring survey data suggests that the population has been relatively stable since 1998–1999 between 800,000 and 1,000,000 birds.  In spite of this stabilization of population growth rate, it appears that the environmental conditions that have led to the overabundance of geese are still present and may even be increasing in eastern North America. These environmental conditions include global warming (milder summers on the Arctic breeding grounds) and increasing acreages of cornfields near staging and wintering grounds (Bélanger et al. 2007). These conditions are likely to result in better individual body condition of geese and a concomitant reduction in natural mortality rates (Gauthier et al. 2005).  Batt (1998) warned that a population size greater than one million individuals could cause serious ecological damage to habitats used by Greater Snow geese and that it would be increasingly difficult to manage such a large population.
Bylot Island link:

Range Map of Greater Snow Geese


Snow Goose 

Current Status and Management Issues for Western Arctic Lesser Snow Geese

Most (>95%) of the western Arctic population of Lesser Snow geese breed on Banks Island, Northwest Territories, with four smaller breeding colonies occurring on the mainland of the Northwest Territories and Alaska.  Historically the population wintered primarily in the Central Valley of California but there has been a gradual and significant shift eastward in wintering distribution over the past several decades.  In parts of its range, the Western Arctic population mixes with two other breeding populations of Snow geese with significantly different conservation status (the relatively small Wrangel Island population and the overabundant Western Central Flyway) as well as increasing populations of Ross’s geese.  The numbers of Western Arctic Lesser Snow geese have been steadily increasing since the 1970’s and the number of nesting adults has now increased to a population of almost 500,000.  Given the growth of the population there is concern over the loss of Arctic habitat due to overgrazing of vegetation by the adults and their broods.  Migration, staging and wintering areas are also threatened by development, in particular gas and oil development.

Current Status and Management Issues for Midcontinent Lesser Snow Goose and the Western Central Flyway Snow and Ross’s Goose Populations

The Western Central Flyway population nests in the central and western Canadian Arctic, with large nesting colonies near the Queen Maud Gulf and on Banks Island.  These geese stage during fall in eastern Alberta and western Saskatchewan and concentrate during winter in southeastern Colorado, New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, and the northern highlands of Mexico.  Midcontinent population Snow geese nest on Baffin and Southampton Islands, with smaller numbers nesting along the west coast of Hudson Bay.  These geese winter primarily in eastern Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.  These two populations of Lesser Snow and Ross’s geese traditionally have been delineated by their wintering ground affiliation with theSnow Geese Mississippi and Central Flyways.  Together, they constitute “Central and Mississippi Flyway light geese” a group of geese considered overabundant due to their rapid population growth, high abundance, and deleterious impacts on habitats.  Numerical indices of these geese during winter (excluding surveys in Mexico) increased nearly 4 fold from 1970 (784,000) to 1998 (3.1 million).  These geese degrade Arctic habitats during spring and summer, cause crop depredation during fall and winter, and create potential dangers to other species and their habitats (see Batt 1997, Moser 2001).  North American waterfowl managers have liberalized hunting regulations on these geese in an attempt to stop or reverse their rapid population growth.  In 1999, special provisions were implemented that allowed the take of these geese outside the traditional hunting period.  Winter indices of goose abundance since 1999 have shown a slight downward tendency, but winter surveys are known to be incomplete and may not be indicative of the actual trends (see figure 1).  Photographic surveys of individual Arctic nesting colonies are conducted, but the high cost of working in Arctic areas restricts survey efforts to covering each colony only once every five years, on a rotating basis.  Lincoln estimates using band recovery and harvest data have also been used to examine trends in population growth (Alisauskas).  These estimates have also shown a decrease in growth rates since 1999 compared with the previous years.  However, obtaining precise estimates of population size, or population growth rates for these widely dispersed geese is a difficult task, and all the above methods have potential biases and errors.  A team of biologists has been convened by the AGJV to evaluate current information on these geese and their habitats.  A report of the AGJV committee is expected in the summer of 2009.  For more information see the “ Overabundant Light Goose Issues ” section of this website.


Figure 1.  Winter indices of Western Central Flyway and Midcontinent Population light goose populations in the United States and Canada, 1970—2008.

Current Status and Management Issues for Wrangel Island Snow Geese

These geese nest on Wrangel Island, Russia, northeast of the Russian mainland.  An increasing proportion of Wrangel Island geese winter in the Fraser and Skagit River delta areas of Washington and British Columbia, and a decreasing proportion winter in California.  Russian biologists, with support from the AGJV, have estimated the breeding population on Wrangel Island since 1970.  The breeding population decreased from approximately 150,000 in 1970 to 50,000 in 1975, but has recovered in recent years to near 150,000 again.  Harvest management has been an important consideration of this inter-continental resource.  Recently, geese of the northern wintering segment have caused crop depredation complaints, aircraft safety concerns at the Vancouver International Airport, nuisance issues in urban areas, and bulrush habitat degradation in area marshes.  As with many goose populations, managers are faced with determining and achieving a balance between the positive value and negative attributes of these geese.