Community Partner

The Pacific Flyway Council

First Advisor

Mark Sytsma

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Environmental Management (MEM)


Environmental Science and Management


Climatic changes -- Environmental aspects, Geese -- Climatic factors, Geese -- Ecology, Geese -- Conservation -- Oregon, Geese -- Migration




This thesis considers the question of whether climate change is affecting the migration patterns of geese in the Pacific Flyway, specifically cackling geese (Branta hutchinsii minima) and Pacific white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons frontalis). Ancillary questions that are considered are as follows:

• If global warming is affecting these species, what is the nature of the effects? • How are the changes affecting the human environment and what can be done about these effects?

In 1994, the majority of the cackler population in the Pacific Flyway began to winter in Oregon’s Willamette Valley rather than in their historical wintering areas in California’s Central Valley. In recent years, the Pacific white-fronted goose has shown a change in behavior similar to that of cacklers just before their major shift. The reasons for this shift have not been clear, though climate change, agricultural shifts, or competition with other species were thought to be possible causes. Analyses of historical breeding and wintering surveys, bird band data, harvest data, agricultural data, and climate and weather data were undertaken in the course of this thesis to see if the cause or causes could be identified. The results showed that climate and weather data, i.e. an increase in average annual temperature coupled with occasional severe winters, most closely correlated with the cacklers’ shift northward. The data comparison revealed that there is a direct relationship between cacklers and a warming shift seen on the wintering grounds. There also was a secondary correlation between the northward shift and recent changes in agricultural crops in the Willamette Valley. Substantially less data are available for white-fronts, and the relationship between their recent migration changes and climate and/or other factors is much less clear.

The following recommendations for management and further study are aimed at more completely understanding the scope and causes of migration shifts and formulating well-founded management plans for geese in the Pacific Flyway:

• Continue research to determine if climate change is causing changes in goose population numbers and behavior.

• Expand breeding ground flight surveys to include cacklers and habitat preference to learn how habitat change on the Y-K Delta is altering cackler behavior and breeding success.

• Expand radio transmitter studies and collar programs for cacklers in Oregon and Washington to verify northerly wintering shifts.

• Expand collar programs for cacklers wintering in the Willamette Valley to determine if the population is continuing to shift northward. • Expand banding programs for white-fronted geese to gather more data about migration patterns. • Develop models that will allow researchers and managers to correlate migration behavior with various environmental factors including climate change in order to: 1) determine which factors are causing migration changes in specific waterfowl populations and 2) allow managers to make changes to management plans in advance of rapid changes.

• Inform the public about how it can assist in collar surveys or volunteer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). This will enable USFWS to have more concrete data and give the public an opportunity gain a greater understanding of geese and goose management.

• Expand research on urban cackling geese to determine the nature and scope of their effect on the human environment and to devise management strategies. • Research energetics in migrating geese to determine whether the shift in migration patterns has its basis in climate change. • Increase data exchange and coordination among agencies.

• Formulate and implement plans at the city and county levels to manage growing numbers of geese in urban areas.

• Recognize and anticipate the possibility that goose populations may move into new wintering areas and formulate plans for management of those species.

• Implement low cost techniques, such as more liberal bag limits and seasons, hazing, etc., to assist agricultural landowners in decreasing goose-related crop damage.


A research project report submitted in partial fulfillment of the degree requirements for Master of Environmental Management

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