The calmness of an early June morning breaks as a flotilla of airboats fires up their engines and embarks on a sprint across Cutler Marsh to capture and band wild geese populations.
Donning a cowboy hat, Rich Hansen, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources waterfowl banding coordinator, orchestrates the seven-boat armada to circle around nearly 100 geese stirred into the water by a DWR airplane.
Using hand signals, Hansen directs his fellow airboat captains to contain the geese as a crew onshore sets fencing to capture the waterfowl.
With precision, the boats slowly move the gaggle toward shore to the awaiting nets strung into the water guiding the birds into the trap. A final push of revved engines beaches the flat-bottomed vessels as over a dozen wader-clad men clamor ashore to sort the geese into crates for banding.
Hansen, who took over the banding program in 2004, said the annual DWR banding continues collecting information for one of the longest running data sets in the country.
“We have banded every year since 1965. I believe we are the only state that has consecutively done that,” Hansen said. “One of the cool things is we also band more geese than anyone west of the Rockies. We will band between 3,000 and 4,000 geese every year.”
Following the rodeo of moving the geese from water to land, DWR employees and volunteers set up chairs and begin banding, checking the sex of the geese and recording information from birds already banded from previous years.
In nearly an hour, the crew was able to band 233 new geese and document 35 recaptures banded previously.
“This is the lowest number we have banded out there in the past 12 years,” Hansen said. “I think there must have been a lot of activity on Benson Marina over the weekend and they moved someplace else.”
Prior to the Monday, June 11 roundup, the DWR flew over the area and documented more geese in the marsh area than in previous years, Hansen said. He believes many of the geese were stirred to the south side of the marsh past the bridge spanning Black Rock Road where the airboats cannot get to because of their height.
The lower numbers didn’t cause too much concern for Hansen as he knows it is part of the ebb and flow of the wild populations across the state.
“The goose numbers are great up here, but this year they were in an area we couldn’t capture them,” Hansen said. “Cache Valley always produces a lot of geese. It is probably one of the best areas in the state. It is very important to the population.”
The banding allows biologists to track the mortality and survival rates of the geese, providing insight into harvest rates and enabling officials to set dates for the hunting season.
Each band has a web address — www.reportband.gov — and a unique number embossed on it that when harvested or found can be entered online to record vital statistics about the goose.
Hansen said in some cases there are financial incentives to report the band info, leading to around an 80 to 90 percent reporting rate.
In addition to the airboat rodeo at Cutler, the DWR conducted similar banding operations in Farmington Bay and Ogden Bay. It also continued the urban geese roundup that has relocated nearly 6,000 birds since 2006.
After banding geese at Cutler, a handful of the crew hit First Dam at the request of Logan city to remove nuisance geese taking up residence at the park. “The city called and complained about the aggressive geese and feces on the ground and asked us to take them,” Hansen said. “They will be taken to Clear Lake in Delta so they don’t create a nuisance.”
The dozen or so children at First Dam were roped into helping wrangle the geese at the park. The children drew all the waterfowl at the park in by throwing food into the water off one of the fishing docks as Hansen and others traded their airboats for kayaks to push the birds to a trap set toward the inlet.
In the 13 years since taking over the program, Hansen said nearly 45,000 geese have been banded throughout the state.