Project Fjällgas - the Swedish reinforcement project
The Lesser Whitefronted Goose was a fairly common breeding bird in the arctic mountain areas in Sweden in the beginning of the 20th century. But the population decreased dramatically and the number of breeding pairs was estimated to only 70 pairs in the Nordic countries (Sweden, Finland and Norway) in 1980. Most evidence pointed out that factors during migration and wintering were responsible to the population crash. Over harvesting and changes in agricultural practices in the countries along this eastern flyway are the most commonly mentioned explanations.
The Swedish project to safeguard the wild breeding population in Sweden started around 1975 by Lambart von Essen. By reinforcing the wild population with captive bred LWfG the project managed to keep the Swedish population alive and by using Barnacle geese as foster parents for the young geese they followed a more western migration route. Hence the mortality during wintering and migration decreased and the populations started to increase slowly. Today, most Lesser Whitefronts breeding in Sweden wintering in the Netherlands, Germany and probably small numbers in Belgium and France. However, the mapping of wintering birds and migration routes need further research.
Today, the Swedish Fjällgas-project is highly integrated with the National Swedish Action plan. Continuous releases of captive bred LWfG is still in focus for the project. The captive breeding program in Sweden was reorganized after findings of small fractions of DNA of Greater White fronted goose-genes in some individuals of the breeding stock. The releases were stopped in 1999 and the captive stock was dismantled. But during 2005-2013 60 wild caught LWfG from Russia were imported to Sweden to build up a new breeding program. The releases of captive bred Lesser Whitefronts (of Russian origin) to the wild population in Sweden restarted in 2010.
Protecting breeding and staging sites
Actions to improve conditions for Lesser Whitefronted Geese in Sweden on breeding and stop over sites have been intensified during the last years. Predation by the invasive red fox has been identified a key factor for reproduction success and results from conservation efforts in Norway shows that intensive protective hunting of the red fox population in the breeding area can increase the breeding success and the project is today working together with responsible authorities to decrease predation pressure from red fox. Mapping, protecting and managing important sites outside the core breeding area is getting more and more attention and especially molting sites is identified as high priority for the future conservation efforts within Sweden.