Date Published: July 3, 2018
Publisher: Springer Netherlands
Author(s): James Henty Williams, Thorsten J. S. Balsby, Helle Ørsted Nielsen, Tommy Asferg, Jesper Madsen.
As many goose populations across the northern Hemisphere continue to rise, the role of hunters to manage these populations is increasingly being considered. We studied recreational goose hunters in Denmark to assess their behavioural and motivational characteristics, willingness to alter their hunting effort, as well as their ability to act as stewards of a rapidly increasing goose population. We identified several behavioural characteristics that typify effective goose hunting practices. We suggest a degree of specialization is necessary to increase goose harvests, as well as mitigating animal welfare issues (e.g. wounding). However, the majority of Danish goose hunters can be considered to be casual participants in this form of hunting. This poses a challenge for wildlife managers wishing to engage recreational hunters to manage highly dynamic wildlife populations, such as geese. If recreational hunters are to be used as a management tool, wildlife managers and hunting organizations will need to consider how best to facilitate skill development, hunting practices and socially legitimate hunting ethics to foster the stewardship role of hunting. We conclude that it is incumbent on wildlife managers to recognize and deal with both internal factors (e.g. skill development) and external influences (e.g. animal welfare concerns). In doing so, potential tensions in the multi-functionality of hunting can be alleviated, maintain hunting as a legitimate and accepted recreational past-time and management tool.
Several goose populations in Europe have grown dramatically in size since the 1960s. These populations are increasingly the cause of conflicts with agricultural interests as well as posing threats to air safety, human and animal health and potentially detrimental effects on vulnerable ecosystems (e.g. arctic tundra) (Fox and Madsen 2017). Progressively the management of problematic goose species is being considered at a population level, employing adaptive harvest management (AHM) and requiring national and international coordination (Stroud et al. 2017). In Europe, the use of hunters and lethal control to manage problem situations involving geese has been limited and predominately confined to local schemes that are highly regulated (e.g. requiring dispensations) (Bradbeer et al. 2017; McKenzie and Shaw 2017). However, in 2012 the Svalbard population of the pink-footed goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) was chosen as the first European test case for the development of an International Species Management Plan (ISMP) (Madsen and Williams 2012). This management plan included setting a population target as part of a series of objectives and management actions, instigated to reduce agricultural conflicts and avoid tundra degradation (Madsen et al. 2017). To maintain a stable population size, an AHM strategy was developed using recreational hunting. The initial aim of the AHM strategy was to reduce the population to an agreed level of 60 000 birds, requiring its reduction from a peak of 80 000 (the estimated population size in 2013).
Our study has shown that the majority of Danish hunters that shot geese did so only on a casual basis. Most hunters tended to shoot just one or two geese during the course of a hunting season and were less likely to shoot geese every year. These low bag hunters only had a small impact on the number of geese shot, whilst the majority of geese were shot by a comparatively small proportion of hunters. The focus of the ISMP for the pink-footed goose was initially on increasing harvests, as the size of the population continued to grow. This guided our interest in determining what characteristics enabled some hunters to achieve higher goose bags. We have shown there is a positive relationship between the number of hunting days and bag size. This echoes findings of a study amongst duck hunters in the US (Haugen et al. 2015), but our data also showed considerable variation. Some respondents achieved high goose bags whilst indicating these were shot over just a few hunting days. Unlike the US, Denmark has no daily bag limits. Our analyses did indicate that 3 behavioural characteristics may enhance the success of hunting when a hunter does go out hunting, leading to higher bag sizes: access to multiple hunting areas, using specialist equipment (e.g. decoys and/or goose calls) and actively checking for geese prior to hunting. These characteristics indicate that investment and commitment is needed to be an effective goose hunter. Waterbird hunting is known for its high degree of specialization, in comparison to other hunting types (Miller and Graefe 2000). For wildlife managers endeavouring to manage rapidly growing goose populations, specialization and use of hunting as a management tool has many implications. Our study has provided useful insights regarding three broad aspects that are particularly relevant where recreational hunting is to be employed and increased harvest rates required (1) the ability and effectiveness of recreational hunters to attain required harvest bags, (2) their willingness to alter their hunting activity and (3) act as responsible stewards, i.e. undertaking actions specifically to care for a valued resource (Bruskotter and Fulton 2012).
The use of recreational hunters to manage wildlife populations raises many practical challenges and ethical issues for wildlife managers. There is growing recognition that human components and societal values need to be explicitly accounted for in adaptive management (Enck et al. 2006; Johnson et al. 2015; Schroeder et al. 2017). Our study was focused on the management of a rapidly increasing goose population and the potential of recreational hunters to achieve management goals that are both ecologically and socially desirable. We have identified several behavioural characteristics that typify effective goose hunting practices, suggesting a degree of specialization is necessary to increase goose harvests, as well as mitigating animal welfare issues (e.g. wounding). Our study also suggests that most goose hunters, although recreational, do consider they have stewardship role and would be willing to adjust their hunting effort. However, in our study most hunters only shot one or two geese, and not every year, and had a limited impact on overall goose harvests. The challenge for wildlife managers is to engage and influence such a relatively large section of the hunting community as part of an adaptive harvest management regime. This is important, if hunters interest in one form of hunting (e.g. goose hunting) is casual, and their hunting preferences, circumstances and perceived constraints hinder or conflict with the achievement with management objectives. If recreational hunters are to be used as a management tool, wildlife managers and hunting organizations will need to consider how best to facilitate skill development, hunting practices and socially legitimate hunting ethics to foster the stewardship role of hunting. We conclude that it is incumbent on wildlife managers to recognize and deal with the internal factors (e.g. skill development and hunter satisfaction) and external influences (e.g. animal welfare concerns) to alleviate potential tensions in the multi-functionality of hunting as a legitimate and accepted recreational past-time and management tool.