Snow Goose Conservation Order
Special Snow Goose Harvest Opportunity
Areas open: Western, Northeastern, Lake Champlain and Southeastern Waterfowl Zones
Areas closed: Long Island Zone
Season dates: January 16 - April 15, annually.
Shooting hours: ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset when all other waterfowl hunting seasons are closed; shooting hours end at sunset if any other waterfowl season is open.
Bag limits: 25 snow geese per day, no possession limit
Special measures allowed: electronic calls and unplugged shotguns (more than 3 shells) when all other waterfowl hunting seasons are closed.
Non-toxic shot: required
Requirements to participate: current hunting privileges, federal duck stamp and registration in New York's Harvest Information Program (HIP). NO special permit is required but participants must provide harvest information if requested by DEC.
In addition to regular snow goose hunting seasons in each waterfowl hunting zone, waterfowl hunters in New York will have a special opportunity to harvest snow geese in most areas of the state, excluding Long Island.
In 2009, DEC implemented a "Conservation Order" for snow geese. A Conservation Order is a special management action authorized by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act to control certain wildlife populations when traditional management programs are unsuccessful in preventing overabundance. Federal and state regulations were amended in fall 2008 to allow this additional harvest of snow geese in response to concerns about their growing numbers across North America (see "Links Leaving DEC's Website" in the right-hand column).
Populations of snow geese, also referred to as "light geese" because of their white plumage, have grown to historic highs. The overabundance of light geese, which nest in far northern regions of North America, is harming their fragile arctic breeding habitat. The damage to the habitat is, in turn, harming the health of the light geese and other bird species that depend on the tundra habitat. Returning the light goose population to sustainable levels is necessary to protect this delicate habitat, and every species dependent on it. Large numbers of snow geese feeding on natural vegetation can also destroy large areas of coastal marshland during migration and winter. Serious damage to agricultural crops, such as hay, winter wheat, barley and rye, occurs on migration and wintering areas as well.
Snow Goose Population and Harvest Trends
The Atlantic Flyway population of light geese, composed mostly of "greater" snow geese, increased from approximately 50,000 birds in the mid 1960s to more than one million birds in recent years. Most of these birds pass through New York during spring and fall migrations and spend the winter in New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. Managers concerned about the impacts of too many snow geese have recommended a population goal of 500,000 - 750,000 in the Atlantic Flyway. The only practical way to reduce the population to that level is to increase hunter harvest, which in recent years has averaged between 30,000 - 40,000 birds in the flyway, including about 5,000-10,000 in New York.
New York has had a long hunting season for snow geese for many years, but until recently, federal regulations did not allow the season to be open after March 10, when large numbers of snow geese begin migrating north from their wintering areas. From mid March to mid April, more than 100,000 snow geese may spend time in New York, fueling up for their return to the arctic breeding grounds in May. Even larger numbers of snow geese congregate along the St. Lawrence River in southern Quebec, where annual surveys have documented the dramatic growth of this population (see chart below).
Greater Snow Goose Population Estimates, 1965-2015
Why have snow goose populations increased so dramatically? First, the availability of waste grains on agricultural fields provided a vast new food supply for these birds. Second, continuation of restrictive hunting regulations during the 1970s and 1980s allowed the population to grow while hunter harvest rates declined. These two factors resulted in a higher reproductive rate, a higher adult survival rate, and offspring that were in much better condition to survive.
Concern about the overabundance of snow geese has been growing for years. An international "Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group" concluded in 1998 that action was needed to limit the greater snow goose population. A goal of 500,000 birds has since been established for the Atlantic Flyway. However, it took more than a decade to fully implement the recommendations of this group.
In November 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized rules establishing a Conservation Order and allowing the use of special hunting methods to increase the harvest of light geese across the country. Similar regulations have been in place in many Midwestern states and Canadian Provinces, including Quebec, since 1999. Harvest of light geese has more than doubled in those areas and the population growth rate has been reduced. Now, New York waterfowl hunters will be able to participate in this conservation effort.
Under current regulations, any person who has migratory game bird hunting privileges in New York, including a valid Harvest Information Program ("HIP") confirmation number, may take snow geese and Ross' geese (a smaller but nearly identical species) in the Western, Northeastern, Southeastern, and Lake Champlain Waterfowl Hunting Zones from January 16 through April 15, in addition to the regular snow goose hunting seasons in each zone. The daily bag limit is 25 snow geese, and there is no possession limit.
All migratory game bird hunting regulations and requirements apply to the taking of snow geese during this special harvest period, except that shooting hours are extended, use of recorded or electrically amplified calls or sounds is allowed, and use of shotguns capable of holding more than three shells is allowed whenever all other waterfowl hunting seasons are closed.
Hunting Snow Geese
Snow goose hunting can be one of the most challenging and rewarding types of waterfowl hunting. Areas where large numbers of snow geese occur at this time of year include the Finger Lakes region, the St. Lawrence Valley, and the upper Hudson and Champlain Valley regions. A special season was not implemented on Long Island, because relatively few snow geese occur in huntable areas there during the spring. To help increase your chances for success, you can view or download the brochure developed by the Atlantic Flyway Council called "Successful Hunting Tactics for Greater Snow Geese" (pdf, 535 KB). We hope this is helpful and encourage you to share your hunting tips with others.
Unlike some other states, no special permit is needed to participate in New York's special snow goose harvest program. Harvest reporting is not mandatory, but any person who participates must provide accurate and timely information on their activity and harvest if requested by the Department. DEC plans to survey a sample of program participants to estimate hunter activity and harvest, and the extent to which the special measures helped hunters take more birds. This is necessary for continuation of the program in future years.
Results of the 2016 Spring Snow Goose Conservation Order
Immediately after the close of the season we sent a harvest survey by mail to 3,000 hunters registered with HIP. "Non-respondents" were those that did not return the survey. We calculated two estimates of hunter participation and success, one assuming that all non-respondents did not participate, the second assuming that participation by non-respondents was half that of survey respondents.
Sample sizes from the survey were too small to estimate harvest on the county scale; however of respondents that indicated the county of take, 90% of the reported harvest occurred in the Finger Lakes, St. Lawrence and Lake Champlain regions of New York State (see map below).
New York's seventh year in the special snow goose special Conservation Order season was again successful in harvesting a substantial number of snow geese during the spring migration. The harvest estimates of 8,968 - 19,751 birds decreased significantly from the 2015 estimates of 23,596 - 41,956 and are similar to six of the previous seven Conservation Order seasons (4,947 - 14,246). Averaging the two participation and harvest estimates yielded 2,059 participants harvesting 14,359 snow geese. New York will continue to participate in and promote this special snow goose management program and look for better ways to more accurately estimate participation and harvest.