Background

PROJECT FJÄLLGÅS - SWEDISH HUNTERS HELPING TO SAVE THE ENDANGERED LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE

Hunters’ actions meant that, in 2012, the Swedish population of Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erythropus) was the only one in the world not declining.

Until the early 1900s the Lesser White-fronted Goose was a reasonably common bird in northern Sweden, however by the early 1960s there was growing concern about the species’ survival.  Globally, populations of the Lesser White-fronted Goose are declining, and the IUCN’s Red List index now considers it an endangered species.  In the breeding areas in Fennoscandia, the IUCN ranks the species as Critically Endangered.  Despite not being a huntable species, the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management has been working to reverse this trend since 1980, with a long-running conservation project.

Populations of Lesser White-fronted Goose are threatened by human activities both along their migration route and in their breeding areas.  Project Fjällgås therefore aimed to decrease these threats to the population breeding in Sweden.  To achieve this, the project addressed the conservation of the species with three different approaches.

1.       Alter the main migration route

The most important pressure on the population of Lesser White-fronted Geese was their migratory route.  The major migration route for the European populations of Lesser White-fronted Goose took them to wintering areas in western Asian and Eastern Europe, however this route was seeing the decline of the population size as high mortality had been confirmed along this path, with illegal killing being the most probably reason. 

In order to tackle this problem Project Fjällgås began fostering Lesser White-fronted Geese goslings with barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis), with known wintering areas  in the Netherlands As a result, the young Lesser White-fronted Geese learned to migrate along the barnacle geese migratory path, which meant an increase in survival rate, and probably meant the survival of the wild population. Lately reports show that historical data may indicate that this western flyway since long has been used naturally by Lesser White-fronted Geese. Today, probably all Lesser White-fronted Geese breeding in Sweden winter in North-Western Europe.

2.       Strengthen the wild population

In order to increase the population size, the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management began a captive breeding program that bred the geese and then released them into the wild population.  From the project’s beginnings until 1999 a total of 348 individuals had been released in the Swedish Lapland.  However, in 1999 the project discovered some captively bred geese were carrying genes from the Greater White-fronted Goose, and as a result the project dismantled the breeding programme as a security measure.

In order to tackle these genetic problems, a new breeding population was created, from 2005-2011 based on young birds caught in the wild in breeding areas in Russia.  This second breeding stage served a double purpose to both continue strengthening the population and to reduce possible genetic problems identified in 1999.

3.       Improve goose habitat

The final part of conservation efforts undertaken by the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management involved habitat management work to improve the natural environment inhabited by geese in Sweden.  It also involves monitoring the population over time, and conducting information activities to communicate the project.

From 2010 onwards, the project has been highly integrated into the Swedish national action plan for the Lesser White-fronted Goose, and as a result many of the conservation actions were financially supported by the Swedish authorities.  Most of the ground work was, however, carried out by unpaid volunteers.

Project Fjällgås has been highly successful: the efforts carried out by the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management meant that in 2012 the Swedish Lesser White-fronted Goose population is the only one in the world which is note declining.  The population size in 2011 amounted to at least 15 breeding pairs and during the migration and wintering period up to 120 individuals but during the period 2012-2014 the populations experienced some hard years with high mortality due to unexpected predation pressure in the breeding areas and low reproduction.  However, the project continues its increasing efforts within the framework of the National Action Plan and growing international cooperation. With determination and growing numbers of conservation tools in combination with high production of young birds in the captive breeding program this late negative development are to be stopped. .  The actions of these hunters have therefore conserved an integral part of Swedish natural heritage and have ensured a place for the Lesser White-fronted Goose in the Swedish landscape for the future.

Contact

Niklas Liljebäck (Project Manager at the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management),

Email: niklas.liljeback@jagareforbundet.se

Source

http://jagareforbundet.se/en/projektfjallgas/