Where Did The Texas Geese Go?
Updated: Apr 29, 2020
My first goose hunt was in 1969. I was awestruck. The whole experience changed me. The number of geese was unbelievable. In a nutshell, it ruined my whole life!
Instead of becoming something worthwhile, like a doctor or an accountant, I became obsessed with goose hunting and majored in Wildlife and Fisheries Science (goose hunting). The rest of my life has been about learning about geese, chasing geese, shooting geese, understanding geese.
In 1969, there were staggering numbers of geese in the Eagle Lake prairie. Later when I hunted Katy, the geese were incredibly plentiful.
Alas, it is all gone.
Goose numbers peaked in 1998 at 1.3 million snow geese, more than 150,000 white-fronted and 100,000 Canada geese. Those are eye-pooping numbers of birds. The 2019-2020 bird count was 243,000 snow geese, 16,000 white-fronted and zero Canadas. So what happened?
Before I continue, I want to state that I really don't know. I will offer some opinions, but we all know what opinions are.
In 1996, the farm plan changed and the Freedom To Farm program allowed farmers to plant alternative crops. The previous 1984 program was based on a farm's crop history, and in the coast of Texas that history was rice. Farming rice created an environment that promoted habitat for waterfowl.
Texas is a great place to grow rice, but the price of water makes other crops more economical. In short, rice acreage started to decrease. These acres were replaced by row crops like cotton milo corn.
Row crop technology developed crops that had Glyphosate (Round-up) resistance and these crops became monocultures. As the fields evolved from rice prairies to basic plowed wastelands, geese didn't have anything to eat.
I first started noticing less numbers as far back as 2005. Every year there were less geese. The most dramatic was the total absence of Canada geese. Snow goose numbers were still good, but the difficulty in hunting them made the hunting more dependent on weather.
White-front numbers were on decline and there are so few white-fronted geese now that it is possible to go hunting and not see a one. As hunting declined, major hunting clubs turned to duck hunting, and areas that were sanctuaries or roost ponds became duck ponds.
As all of this was happening, farmers to the north turned to no till farming and the exact opposite happened. After fields were harvested, tons of waterfowl food was left for the birds. When you couple the extra food with the much warmer temperatures, the geese just have no reason to come to Texas. They have all the food they want, and basically nobody bothering them. Why fly another 1,000 miles to winter?