Swedish lessons for European goose management

Submitted by editor on 17 March 2021. Get the paper!
Greylag goose family with young. The species typically have 3-7 young and have great potential for population growth when conditions are good. Photo by Niklas Liljebäck.

By Niklas Liljebäck

In the 1980’s and 1990’s conservationists, hunters and wildlife managers with joy witnessed the recovery of several goose species in Sweden. The feeling of conservation success, however, later changed for some stakeholders, gloomed by growing concerns stemming from populations that had become larger than ever before. In fact, global anthropogenic processes, such as modern agricultural practices and climate change, have resulted in perfect conditions for some goose species. Wildlife managers and researchers have been forced to shift mind set from strict conservation to managing conflicts linked to super-abundance. In Sweden the spectacular recovery and paradigm shift can be followed by long term data collected on population development and hunting harvest.

Greylag goose is one of the real winners among European wildlife the last decades. Changes in the agriculture landscape and climate have created perfect conditions for the species. Management of the species have rapidly changed from a strict conservation perspective to focus on concerns coming from very abundant and thriving populations. Changing objectives for management create new needs for data collection and analyses. Photo by Niklas Liljebäck.

In this study we used national indices on breeding numbers, staging numbers and hunting bag for greylag goose (Anser anser), bean goose (Anser fabalis), and Canada goose (Branta canadensis) to study shifts in temporal trends and how these correlated among species. The populations of greylag and Canada geese increased in Sweden from 1979 to 2018, but this long-term trend included a recent decrease in the latter species. The bean goose breeding index decreased during the study period, whilst staging numbers and harvest varied among years with no clear long-term trend. For Canada goose, our analysis suggests that harvest may affect growth rates negatively. For bean goose and greylag goose we could not detect any effect of harvest on autumn counts the following year.

A Swedish hunter with a newly shot greylag goose. Hunting of geese have long traditions in Sweden and Europe. Hunting harvest of greylag geese have increased rapidly in Sweden but seems to stabilize between 20 000-25 000 shot individuals annually. Population indices, however, indicate a continuous population growth. Photo by Johan Månsson.

Current Swedish goose management has rather unspecific goals, especially for greylag (very abundant) and Canada goose (introduced species). As the goals are vague the data at hand may suffice as basis for follow up and decisions. However, for management of bean geese, with international concerns of over-harvest, current data lack crucial information. Moreover, for future management challenges for all goose species, with more specific goals likely to become formulated, we advocate collection of information that is more precise and coordinated over the entire flyway. Data such as hunting effort, age-structure of goose populations, and mark-recapture data to estimate survival and population size, are needed to feed predictive population models to guide future Swedish and European goose management.

Greylag goose female with small young. How, when and where to feed is one of the many important lessons the goose female teaches the young. Photo by Niklas Liljebäck.