Are Lesser Snow Geese, Chen caerulescens caerulescens, Exceeding the Carrying Capacity of the Fraser River Delta's Brackish Marshes?
Keywords:Lesser Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens caerulescens, American Three-square Bulrush, Scirpus americanus, brackish marsh, carrying capacity, Fraser River delta, bird strike, British Columbia
AbstractBrackish marshes of the Fraser River delta provide important habitats for such high-profile animals as White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus), Pacific Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus), Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.), Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri), and Lesser Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens caerulescens), the latter comprising the “Fraser-Skagit” segment of the Wrangel Island (Russia) population. This study assessed whether the current numbers of Snow Geese are exceeding the carrying capacity of brackish marshes in the Fraser River delta. Simulation modelling predicts that those marshes are presently capable of supporting ~17,500 Snow Geese—a value that is greatly exceeded by the numbers of geese that have over-wintered there in recent years (~80,000 in 2004-2005). The Pacific Flyway Council’s target 3-y average population and segment sizes of 120,000 and 50,000 - 70,000, respectively, were set without considering the carrying capacity of natural wintering habitats, the potential impacts of too many geese on upland agriculture, or implications for hazards to civilian aircraft at Vancouver International Airport. The modelled results of the present study suggest that the Fraser River delta can sustain the current numbers of Snow Geese that stage or winter there only if those birds also forage in agricultural and refuge fields—a relatively recent phenomenon that likely bolstered the Snow Goose population. Over-use by Snow Geese can degrade the productivity and habitat quality of marshes. There is documented evidence that some key plant species (e.g., Scirpus americanus) of the brackish marshes of the Fraser River delta are well below their biomass potential (~15%), primarily because of grubbing by Snow Geese. Other species that depend on this brackish environment as well as human interests in the Fraser River delta may be adversely affected by an overabundance of Snow Geese. The future effectiveness of hunting as a primary means of population regulation is questioned.
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