01/20/2015 08:02 EST | Updated 03/22/2015 05:59 EDT

N.W.T. snow goose population spike leads to call for spring hunt

A explosion in the snow goose population has caused Alberta to declare its first spring hunt this year, and N.W.T. hunters are calling on the territorial government to do the same.

They say the massive population of snow geese has caused major environmental impacts on Banks Island, one of their main breeding areas.

Vernon Amos, a hunter in Sachs Harbour, N.W.T., says the colony in that area numbers as many as a million.

"The impact that they're having in that area is very evident," he said.

"They're basically eating all the vegetation. Snow geese aren't grazers like other farm animals. They just eat the roots and leave everything else. So when they eat the roots, they basically destroy all the vegetation in that area."

Snow geese spend their summer in the Arctic before migrating south through Alberta to the United States and Mexico for the winter.

A report on Environment Canada's website says that improved farming methods along the geese's migration routes have led to the population increase.

The report also says suitable nesting grounds for snow geese are few and far between, which means the suitable areas could take decades to recover after a large colony of the birds passes through.

The Alberta government's spring hunt will allow hunters to take up to 50 geese a day, with no possession limit. Amos says that's "a good start."

"I'm not exactly sure if they're aware of the numbers of snow geese we have here," he said. "I don't know if 50 geese per day is enough to make an impact on the population.

"I know hunters here on the island spend an entire day out hunting in the spring, and most people easily get 100 or more a day."

Amos, who has a degree in environmental science, says he's been working with the Canadian Wildlife Service to get Banks Island designated as an overabundant harvest. Getting that designation would allow for a sport hunt by non-residents through local outfitters, and a spring hunt as well as the standard fall hunt.

However, Amos believes sports hunting is one of many potential opportunities for the local community.

"Ecotourism is getting bigger all the time," he said. "There's a lot of opportunity there, as opposed to strictly hunting them."