Increase of Alaskan Snow Geese OK for Other Species

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A new report by the USGS finds that although snow geese are increasing rapidly in northern Alaska, they are not having a negative effect on black brant. Brant are a goose species that shares its nesting habitat with snow geese.

Two white birds and one black one swooping down in what appears to be an aggressive entry.
Two snow geese and a single black brant goose fight over nesting territories on the Colville River Delta in Alaska.(Credit: Ryan Askren, USGS. Public domain.)

“We found that in northern Alaska, the habitat where geese rear their young is in very good condition, and that negative effects of too many snow geese as seen in Canada is not happening here,” said Jerry Hupp, a Research Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and lead author of the new study. “The available habitat in northern Alaska will likely support further growth of goose populations,” said Hupp.

Hupp and other researchers with the USGS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Nevada Reno, and Alaska Biological Research teamed up to compare current rates of growth of young geese and food availability to rates from the 1990s, before snow geese were so numerous. The researchers found no change in growth rates of geese or habitat quality, despite the rise in numbers of snow geese.

“We also wanted to know whether the increase of snow geese was having a negative effect on black brant because the brant population has declined over the past 50 years,” said David Ward with USGS and a co-author of the study. “Because brant feed in the same habitats used by snow geese during the breeding season, it’s important to continue to monitor habitat conditions.”

This research supports findings from recent USGS work that observed changes in the distribution and abundance of black brant geese due to reduced sea ice in the Arctic Ocean that has led to beneficial habitat changes for many geese. 

The new report is entitled, “Growth of black brant and snow goose goslings in northern Alaska” and is published in The Journal of Wildlife Management