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Making changes for the better

A lone Canadian goose stands on the shore of Foot Lake in Willmar Wednesday, while a seagull swoops down to the surface of the lake, trying to grab a snack. Goose hunting season in Minnesota will change this year, with the bag limit increased to three and the season's length increased to 80 days. Tribune photo by T.J. Bartelt

Goose hunters will see quite a few changes when the 2010 season starts.

A longer season, an increased bag limit and simpler hunting zones.

The changes are a direct result of the increased numbers of Eastern Prairie Population geese -- the birds that migrate from Hudson Bay through west-central Minnesota en route to warmer climates, and the resident giant Canada geese.

The daily bag limit has been raised to three birds, which is a good sign of better numbers and more successful hatches.

"The belief is the Eastern Prairie Population can sustain a three-bird harvest over an 80-day season," said Curt Vacek, the assistant wildlife manager at the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Wildlife Management Area near Watson. "In the past, the reason for the West Central zone was we had been more protective of those birds. It's difficult managing the local giants and the EPP birds. But now we have stronger numbers of EPP birds."

Which leads to last major change, the elimination of the West Central and West zones. Minnesota's goose season will open statewide the same day as the waterfowl season -- Oct. 2. The goose season ends Dec. 25, except in the Rochester zone. That area's season will run from Oct. 2-Dec. 7, then reopen Dec. 16 and end Jan. 2.

The season at the Lac qui Parle WMA will run from Oct. 20 through the end of the regular goose season. Vacek said it's too early to tell what effect the changes will have at the west-central Minnesota goose haven.

"The early season is tough to predict. You get early movement of birds that corresponds with the grains in the fields," he said. "Guys doing the scouting find a lot of birds in August and come September they can't find them."

But he said that banding efforts took less time than usual, which is a sign that they were able to find more birds.

Getting rid of all the goose zones should benefit hunters at Lac qui Parle, who can enter the drawing for state-owned blinds starting Aug. 23, because the EPP geese have been migrating later and later over the last few years.

"The EPP birds have been showing up later and later, so the 80-day framework will help," Vacek said. "In previous years, we've had the December season. That was aimed at controlling the local birds. With the new 80-day season, we won't have a December season.

"Last year, the day after the season closed, the non-breeders showed up."

All of the changes are aimed at giving hunters a better experience without harming the overall population of birds.

It could make for a good year.

"I think folks are excited about it," Vacek said. "We will have to monitor the harvest and see what the population looks like next year when we do the surveys in Canada."

Early season hunts open statewide on Sept. 4 and end on Sept. 22. The bag limit is five per day. A $4 permit is required to during this season, which can be purchased from any ELS station.