The Dusky Canada Goose
The "Dusky" subspecies of true Canada Goose is arguably the most important goose in the Northwest. Not because it is the most numerous, but because it is the most rare. Not because it is the hardest bird to find or hunt, but because it is the easiest. Not because it is the victim of man's alteration of the environment, but because it is the victim of an earthquake. In Alaska. In 1964. It is a long story.
Named because of it's chocolate colored chest and breast, the Dusky subspecies summered and nested in a single river delta in Alaska, the Copper River, and wintered in a small area of the Willamette Valley around Corvallis. Low flying, easy to decoy, the large, stable population provided a simple, uncomplicated goose hunting opportunity. But the massive Alaska quake of 1964 changed the geology of the delta by raising the land a full 12 feet, stranding what had been a flooded, tidal wetland. Nesting success plummeted and the Dusky became endangered. But changes in it's wintering environment further complicated the situation. Partially because of global warming and the development of grass seed farming in the Willamette Valley, the population of other geese, notably the Western, and the two Cackling geese subspecies, the Taverner and the little Cackler, were exploding. Farmers grass fields were being pulled out by their roots as hundred of thousands of geese descended like locusts. The conundrum was set. How to harvest and control the Taverners, Cacklers, and Westerns which are often the most wary, and how to protect the Dusky which is the easiest to lure into shooting range. And the difference between species is often ony determined by measuring the millimeter length of the bill!
These days all goose hunters in the Willamette valley must pass a goose indentification course and test. Hunting does not start until 8 AM three days a week and all killed geese must be checked in a check station. Within the major boundaries of the valley, if a Dusky is killed, the hunter loses his goose permit for the season. The process is complicated and intimidating. Hunter numbers have dropped and the seasonal kill on Taverners and Westerns is below quotas. The seasonal kill last year was 18,000 geese of which 14 were Duskies. Farmers are not happy and most fields are studded with flags, coyote silhouettes or full body decoys, eagle decoys, or exploding flares. They all work a little, but the geese must be fed and they are fully mobile both night and day.