RECOVERY OF GEESE SPARKS NATIONAL INTEREST

March 21, 2001 12:00 am
Thousands of Aleutian geese lift off from Crescent City's Castle Rock at sunrise. ().
Thousands of Aleutian geese lift off from Crescent City's Castle Rock at sunrise. ().

The Aleutian Goose Festival this weekend in Crescent City has drawn the attention of U.S. Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and national news agencies.

Nortons staff was working on a schedule that would have allowed her to announce the delisting of the geese on site in Smith River, according to the event co-director Rick Hiser.

Norton will not be able to make it, but even without her personal appearance, Nortons delisting announcement Monday has piqued the interest of news groups, including Los Angeles Times reporters, who have come to photograph and report the amazing recovery of the once endangered Aleutian geese.

The festival, in its third year, celebrates the remarkable recovery story for the geese, once believed to be extinct, and is being billed as one of the great successes of the Endangered Species Act.

Its one of 12 successful recoveries, Hiser said. Up there with the Gray Whale, the Bald Eagle and the American Alligator.

This part of the Northern California/Southern Oregon coast plays host to the worlds entire population of the once-endangered Aleutian geese this time every year, Hiser said.

This is a dramatic, unparalleled recovery story, involving remote islands, high seas, gale force winds, and men in tiny wooden boats, said Sandra Jerabek, Hisers festival co-director.

It makes us feel good about what people can do for nature, and seeing the geese gives us hope because they are nature returning, nature on a comeback, Jerabek added.

The national attention is expected to bring even more visitors to the event. Its shaping up to be a whing-ding festival, Hiser said.

The festival, began as the brainstorm idea of Hiser and Jerabek to coincide with and celebrate the annual return of the geese to their feeding grounds in Smith River.

The geese, now approximately 40,000 strong, return each year to bed down on Castle Island, just off the coast and feed in the Smith River fields to fatten up for the 2,000-mile nonstop journey to their breeding islands in the remote Aleutian chain.

This is good news, bad news for Smith River ranchers who bear the brunt of crop loss when the geese eat their way through the fields.

A group of small family farmers end up feeding and subsidizing the geese. We are actively working to get federal and state financial compensation for our ranchers, Jerabek said.

Brad Bortner in U.S. Fish and Wildlife Regional Migratory Bird office said, Weve been working with the farmers for a number of years to have the geese feed on public lands.

Bortner then admitted the geese are not easy to herd to a specific feeding ground. Theres no program for compensation, he said.

However, farmers are working with U.S. Department of Agriculture on some sort of arrangement for an easement where farmers can grow a crop to sacrifice to the geese, perhaps a resource conservation district, he said.

Im hopeful in the long run to minimize the loss to the farmers and continue to have a healthy goose population, he said.

The story of the geese, their recovery, their journey and its impact will all be told during the festival activities.

Their demise began with the introduction into their remote breeding grounds of foxes by fur trappers. They were thought to be extinct, with no sightings, until they were rediscovered by a lone biologist/researcher, Bob Sea Otter Jones.

Jones rowed out in a wooden dory to the rocky, wave-tossed island where he found a remnant population.

The geese were recognized as endangered in 1967 and the fox population was removed from their breeding grounds, allowing their recovery to happen.

LaVerne Smith, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife official is quoted as saying, I dont think theres any other recovery story that rivals this one.

This years festival provides 75 field excursions, workshops and ocean, river and coastal lagoon boat trips, featuring ancient redwoods, whale watching, Spotted Owls, Marbled Murrelets and 150 other bird species.

Nature photography and sketching, wolves, bats, native plant, wild salmon, dune walks, lighthouse tours, local maritime history, tide pools and seal pups are all a part of the events offered.

Experienced biologists, ornithologists and other experts will guide all events.

Free community events include a Wings & Whales trade fair with gifts, art, books, optics equipment and displays Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

There is something for all ages and interests, with childrens activities and Mother Goose puppet theaters on Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Drift boat excursions on the Smith River, the nations longest Wild and Scenic River, and kayaking on the Wests largest coastal lagoon, Lakes Earl and Tolowa, are available.

The sight of the birds lifting off the island each morning to begin their feeding is an experience that has almost been lost from the American landscape, said Hiser.

The geese will remain for another week or 10 days, he said. Anyone may view the spectacular breakfast flight any dawn during their stay. From Brookings, drive south on Highway 101 to Washington Blvd., follow it to its end at the old Coast Guard station.

Dont be late, Hiser said. The geese fly a little before 6 a.m., earlier each morning.

Most of the events will take place in the Crescent City Cultural Center, 1001 Front Street.

For information about festival events and registration, call (800) 343-8300.

Some workshops and field trips are limited and, with the heavy media attention, it is a good idea to get reservations in early, Hiser said.