This report describes progress on development and implementation of an adaptive harvest management program for maintaining the Svalbard population of Pink-footed Geese (Anser brachyrhynchus) near their target level (60,000) by providing sustainable harvests in Norway and Denmark. Specifically, this report provides an assessment of recent monitoring information and its implications for hunting seasons in 2018.
An Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) program requires specification of four elements: (a) A set of alternative population models, which bound the uncertainty about population dynamics; (b) A set of weights describing the relative credibility of the alternative models, which are updated each year based on a comparison of model predictions and monitoring information; (c) A set of alternative harvest quotas from which to choose; and (d) An objective function, by which alternative harvest strategies are evaluated and an optimal strategy chosen.
The most current set of monitoring information was used to update model weights for the 1991-2017 period. Current model weights suggest little evidence for density-dependent survival and reproduction. These results suggest that the Pink-footed Goose population may have experienced a release from density-dependent mechanisms, corresponding to the period of rapid growth in population size. There is equivocal evidence for the effect of the number of days above freezing in May in Svalbard on survival, but the evidence for an effect on reproduction has been increasing in recent years.
Since the 2016 hunting season, harvest quotas are prescribed on an annual basis rather than every three years because of the potential to better meet management objectives. Based on updated model probabilities, the November 2017 population size (72,000), the proportion of the population comprised of one-year-old birds (0.076), and days above freezing in Svalbard in May 2018 (27), the optimal harvest quota for the 2018 hunting season is approximately 27,000. With the agreed upon harvest allocation of 30% Norway and 70% Denmark, the national quotas are 8,100 and 18,900, respectively, which are higher than the harvests realized in previous years. In 2017 the quota for the two countries combined was 36,000, but only a harvest of about 11,400 was realized. The decrease in harvest quota for 2018 is largely attributable to the apparent decline in population size.
We also describe the ongoing development of an Integrated Population Model (IPM), which uses all available demographic data for Pink-footed Geese in a single, unified analysis. IPM estimates of harvest rates of adult geese were variable and relatively low prior to the implementation of AHM (2013), and have been relatively high since. The increase in harvest rates has been accompanied by a decline in annual survival. The ratio of young-of-the-year to older birds just prior to the hunting season has been variable over time, and since about 2005 has been highly correlated with the number of days above freezing in May in Svalbard. IPM estimates of population size suggest that abundance of Pink-footed Geese has been relatively stable, or declining slightly, in recent years. Based on the IPM estimate of population size in November 2017 of 68,800 (95% credible interval: 58,200 – 79,400), the optimal harvest quota for the 2018 hunting season is 15,000. This is lower than that derived from the set of nine discrete models because the IPM estimate of November population size is lower than the November count, and because the IPM model does not consider May temperatures in Svalbard, but rather assumes reproductive success varies randomly about the mean.