Farmers seek expanded goose hunt

Submitted by Jason Beck Cranes fly in Southeast Idaho's Oxford area. Cranes and geese can cause extensive damage to grain crops. Several growers in Caribou County are asking the state to revise the Canada goose season to coincide with the sandhill crane season.

'They are just like lawnmowers,' grower says of Canada geese

By JOHN O'CONNELL

Capital Press

Several Caribou County grain farmers are asking the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to change their local hunting season for Canada geese to protect crops from depredation by large flocks of birds.

Evan Hayes, a retired grain farmer who is spearheading the effort, said 13 growers intend to sign a letter requesting the department start the Caribou County goose hunt a month early in September.

Hayes explained the revised goose hunt would correspond with the current sandhill crane hunt, increasing hunting pressure to disperse both species of birds, which are known to damage grain fields. The farmers estimate the hunt would protect more than 100,000 acres from bird damage just before harvest.

"They are just like lawnmowers. They will eat trails. I've seen them go a quarter mile into a field," Hayes said of geese, which have resident populations in Caribou County. "When you put hunters into fields, you're going to push birds around."

Soda Springs grower Scott Brown grants permission to most hunters who request access to his land to minimize goose and crane pressure.

"(Geese) just cut the heads off of grain, and there's nothing there when you cut it," Brown said, adding goose pressure is typically high in August and September. "They definitely eat a lot of grain."

He noted cranes do the most damage by pounding grain with their massive feet and wings.

Sid Cellan, who farms 2,100 acres of barley and wheat north of Soda Springs, would also like to see a spring goose hunt added in his community.

"Geese start mowing (winter wheat) down now, as soon as it turns green," Cellan said, explaining spring bird pressure is worst in fields around the Blackfoot Reservoir and other bodies of water.

Cellan said a spring goose hunt could protect another 15,000 Caribou County acres from damage, especially during extremely wet or dry years when soil is loose enough for geese to uproot grain plants. Jason Beck, landowner and sportsman coordinator for Fish and Game's Southeast region, said his department added a spring snow goose hunt three years ago near American Falls Reservoir to provide relief for grain farmers in that area. This spring, that season spanned from Feb. 18 to March 10.

Beck said the process of changing a hunt can take a few years. However, he's found an effective means for growers to protect their fields from birds in the meantime. Beck said growers laughed at him when he offered to loan them coyote decoys four years ago. Now, growers are using all 30 of his decoys.

Cellan rotates three coyote decoys throughout 200 acres that are hard hit by geese.

"They work really well," Cellan said.

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