Outlook not good for goose hunting

Monday, November 26, 2001

As the wild goose goes, so goes the winter economy in Southern Illinois.

And both could be down this winter.

Kathy Thornburg, who keeps count of the big honkers, said a recent count in Southern Illinois found that just over 4,000 geese were in the entire area.

"We really don't have that many geese here yet," Thornburg said.

According to Jerry Garver, a waterfowl biologist in Southern Illinois, the annual waterfowl season depends on four things -- spring population, hatches in the Canadian Northlands, fall migration flights into the area and weather.

Some of those aren't looking good.

The Department of Illinois Natural Resources reported the estimate of the spring population at about 468,000, down more than 50 percent from a year ago. That means fewer geese for the fall flight, which is forecast at about 697,000 birds, down 46 percent from last year's forecasts.

"This the lowest forecast during the past 13 years, second only to the 1998 prediction of 651,000," said Illinois DNR director Brent Manning.

"If these numbers hold, Illinois could be facing a goose season even more restrictive than 1998, and one that is dramatically reduced from the last two liberal seasons enjoyed by hunters."

"The hunting at this point will depend on the weather," Garver said. "If the weather is too nice up north, there's no reason for the geese to leave."

Quota, season set

The season for this year's quota zone has been established -- Dec. 15 through Jan. 31. But there are some restrictions. Hunters are limited to one bird until Dec. 31, with a two-bird limit Jan. 1-31, if the season lasts that long.

The quota this year -- 16,500 birds -- is less that half last season. And the 48-day season is 20 less than the 687-day season of a year ago.

Illinois' statewide quota for Canada geese in 1998 was 40,000, compared to last year's 127,000. The quota for the Southern Illinois Quota Zone of Alexander, Union, Jackson and Williamson counties in 1998 was 13,000, the lowest quota during the past decade.

Last year, hunters were allowed to harvest 32,900 birds in the quota zone. And with more than a quarter-million geese in the area, hunters bagged the quota early.

Goose hunting is permitted only from a blind or pit, and this year for the first time in the Southern Illinois zone, all Canada goose hunters must obtain a Canada goose hunting permit when they buy their state waterfowl stamps.

Hunters must mark the date and zone of a goose kill, and call in the harvest information the same calendar day it is taken. Commercial hunting clubs also have to report their harvest.

Horseshoe Lake in Alexander County, has long been acclaimed as the "Goose Hunting Capital of the World." The Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Williamson County is a major wintering ground for large populations of Canada Geese, and both areas usually boast the state's No. 1 goose harvest area.

Alexander, Williamson, Union and Jackson counties make up the four-county quota zone of Southern Illinois's goose-hunting area.

Some 60 hunting clubs in the zone area offer goose-hunting facilities that range from primitive, with just a bench, to the plush, with heated pits, telephones and guides up to 70 days each year.

Golden eggs

The goose-hunting industry usually funnels as much as $10 million to the area's annual economy during its run.

Every goose you see flying in the quota zone is worth $10 to the economy, according to the Williamson County Tourism Bureau, which keeps track of the economics of goose hunting in the four-county area.

A day in the pit can cost from $50 to $100 or more, plus guide costs. Hunters, however, spend more than that. According to various surveys, the average goose hunter spends $150 to $200 a day while in Southern Illinois.

A tourism survey shows that goose hunters bring more money into an area than any other type of hunter. The Williamson Tourism Bureau survey uses a hunter-day system. During a recent year, the survey found that more than 80,800 hunters sought out the Canada geese.

And more than 75 percent of the hunters are visitor hunters. This tabulates into almost $9.4 million annually. Add in the expenses of the 25 percent of local hunters and the total exceeds $10 million in the four counties.

rowen@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 133

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