The hunting season for brant geese in Skagit County will once again be abbreviated.
The state Department of Fish & Wildlife has announced that Skagit County hunters will have three days — Jan. 16, 20 and 23 — to hunt brant geese due to reduced counts.
"We conducted aerial brant counts in Skagit County that indicate numbers fell short of our 6,000-bird requirement for an eight-day season," Kyle Spragens, Fish & Wildlife waterfowl section manager said in a news release. "The reduced schedule is necessary to restrict harvest of western high arctic brant, which primarily overwinter in Skagit County."
Washington Brant Foundation founder and local waterfowl enthusiast Maynard Axelson said while there is no clear explanation for the smaller numbers, the decline seems to fall in line with other climate-related changes taking place worldwide.
"The most likely (explanation) would be ongoing climate change altering traditional migration patterns," he said. "Another recent negative is reduced field surveys due to COVID to help make predictions, but (overall) population levels the last several years have appeared very stable, so the most logical explanation is that warming winters have changed use of traditional areas."
Spragens said in the release that population surveys conducted in Skagit County over Padilla, Samish and Fidalgo bays tallied 3,430 birds and prompted this year’s three-day season.
It's the fourth consecutive year fewer than 6,000 brant have been counted in Skagit County bays.
While the number of wintering brant in Skagit County is small, that doesn't mean the entire population is declining. In a survey conducted last January at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge near the Aleutian Islands, Axelson said brant numbered about 50,000.
"It was just over 52,000 the year before," he said. "Thirty years ago, it might have been one 10th that many. So it appears milder temperatures are allowing them to avoid the tremendous effort of migrating farther south until later in the season, or maybe even altogether during recent milder winters."