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Aleutian Canada goose

The Aleutian Canada goose was an abundant subspecies of Canada goose that nested in the northern Kuril and Commander Islands, in the Aleutian Archipelago, and on islands south of the Alaska Peninsula east to near Kodiak Island [1]. The birds wintered in Japan and in the coastal western U.S. to Mexico [1]. Foxes (both arctic and red) introduced onto islands used by the geese for nesting predated heavily on eggs, goslings, and flightless molting geese, decimating their populations [1]. These introductions (conducted to benefit the fur industry) started as early as 1750 and peaked between 1915 and 1939 [2]. Foxes were released on 190 islands within the Aleutian Canada Goose’s breeding range in Alaska [1]. Hunting of the geese, especially on their migration and wintering range in California, also contributed to population declines and loss and alteration of habitat on their migration and wintering range may also have been problematic [1]. Between 1938 and 1962, there were no sightings of Aleutian Canada geese and it was feared the subspecies may have gone extinct [1]. In 1962, however, a remnant population was discovered on rugged, remote Buldir Island in the western Aleutians [2].

After the Aleutian Canada goose was listed as endangered, efforts to eliminate introduced foxes from former nesting islands and to reintroduce the geese were initiated [1] and hunting closures were implemented in wintering and migration areas [3]. Also, in the early 1980s biologists discovered two additional islands that supported small numbers of breeding Aleutian Canada geese [1]. Although early releases of captive-reared geese proved largely unsuccessful due to low survival rates, populations began to increase, likely due to the hunting closures in California and Oregon [1]. Translocations of wild-caught geese, implemented when the population on Buldir Island became large enough, proved more successful and as new breeding colonies became established, numbers increased rapidly [1]. In addition, important wintering and migration habitat in California and Oregon was acquired and designated as national wildlife refuges and local landowners were encouraged to protect and manage habitat [2].

By 1990, the population had increased to an estimated 6,300 up from 790 counted in 1975, and the species was downlisted from threatened to endangered [1]. Between 1990 and 1998, the average annual population growth rate was estimated at 20% and new populations became firmly established on Agattu, Alaid and Nizki islands in the western Aleutians [2]. In 1999, the population reached over 30,000 [3]. In 2001, with the population estimated at 37,000, the USFWS declared the Aleutian Canada goose recovered and the species was taken off the list of Endangered Species [1]. While the Aleutian Canada Goose continues to rebound in the western Aleutians, Russian scientists are conducting an ongoing program to reestablish Aleutian Canada geese in the Asian portion of the birds’ range [1].

[1] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Final Rule to Remove the Aleutian Canada Goose From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. Federal Register (66 FR 15643 15656).
[2] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. An Endangered Species Success Story: Secretary Norton Announces Delisting of Aleutian Canada Goose. News Release, March 19, 2001. Available at <http://news.fws.gov/newsreleases/R9/571EA0D1-2270-400B-B350418F893BCCEC.html?CFID=1629288&CFTOKEN=63346966>
[3] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Aleutian Canada Goose Road to Recovery Timeline. Available at <http://alaska.fws.gov/media/pdf/road-to-recovery.pdf>.

Banner photo © Phillip Colla