Reinventing Bird Populations

Point Pelee National ParkEven if they are not birdwatchers, most North Americans can recognize Greater Canada Geese. These honking emblems of the wilderness are commonly seen strolling parkways or golf courses.  On a recent trip to Point Pelee National Park, I learned these geese once faced extinction from overhunting and a local, Jack Miner, had been instrumental in saving them.

In 1935, concerned over the significant decline in geese, governments made it illegal to hunt using live decoys – wild geese that had been trapped and made flightless. By then it was almost too late – there was few Canada Geese left in the wild. The live decoys – no longer of use to hunters – were released into marshes. Most died, defenseless against predators, but some lived long enough to breed or grow back their wing feathers. Canada Geese populations grew so slowly that in many areas of North America they were classified as extirpated or nearing extinction. In the 1960s, conservation efforts were stepped up and captive-raised birds were reintroduced to the wild. The program was a phenomenal success with populations doubling every three to seven years.

Now, many communities struggle with an abundance of geese, but Jack Miner, who died in 1944, would be happy to know his efforts were not in vain. Nor only did he help establish Point Pelee National Park, he helped prevent the extermination of Canada Geese. A new generation will decide what to do with an abundance of Canada Geese, but I’m encouraged to know that when people care enough about the future of a species, great change is possible!

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