MSU Sociologist Investigates Community Impacts of Reduction of Goose Population


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    Credit: Photo by Russ Houston/Mississippi State University

    Braden Leap

  • newswise-fullscreen MSU Sociologist Investigates Community Impacts of Reduction of Goose Population

    Book Cover

 

Newswise — STARKVILLE, Miss. – A Mississippi State sociologist’s upcoming book explores how one rural community is adapting as shifting climatological conditions have eliminated more than 100,000 geese from a traditional wintering ground.

Braden Leap, assistant professor of sociology, examines in his book, “Gone Goose,” how Sumner, Missouri residents “adapted, reorganized and reinvented themselves in the wake of climate change, and how they continued to cultivate respect and belonging in their community.”

The book will be released by Temple University Press in December.

Near the Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, Sumner’s 102 residents proclaim it to be the “wild goose capital of the world.” To this day, the town is home to the world’s largest goose – “Maxie,” a 40-foot tall fiberglass statue with a wingspan stretching more than 60 feet.

From the 1950s through the early 1990s, the eastern prairie population of Canadian geese utilized Sumner as their primary wintering grounds. Annually – beginning in September – geese arrived from their breeding grounds along the western Hudson Bay with numbers peaking at more than 100,000.

“Some years’ numbers even approached 200,000,” Leap said. “Residents recounted stories of the sky literally being blackened by geese. Beyond the geese, tens of thousands of people flocked to the area each fall to observe, research and hunt the geese.”

With geese-related activities adding millions of dollars yearly to the local economy, geese and goose hunting became centrally important to how individuals thought of themselves and arranged their relations with each other, Leap explained.

Due to shifting climates and changes in land-use, the birds began to disappear. Losing the geese – and the activities following them – created a new and unfamiliar landscape for the residents of Sumner. 

By 2013, geese numbers peaked at less than 2,000 in Sumner, Leap said. “For a community whose economy, culture and identity largely revolved around geese and goose hunting, this was a dramatic change.”

Leap said little is currently known about how people manage to rearrange and sustain their communities in response to changing climatic conditions, noting it is a “dramatic oversight” because disruptions related to climate change “aren’t likely to go away any time soon.”

“Climate change has social consequences,” said Leap, who spent 20 months talking and working with individuals in Sumner. “Instead of focusing solely on climate catastrophe, let’s start looking at how people are rearranging their lives – or not – so that we can hopefully sustain and maybe even improve our communities as they’re disrupted by climate change.”

Adele Crudden, interim head of MSU's sociology department, said Leap’s work demonstrates how and why sociologists study relationships among people, systems and the environment.

“The Department of Sociology is fortunate to have a rising star like Dr. Leap, who is making substantial professional contributions that enhance our understanding of how changes in the environment are affecting our daily lives,” Crudden said.

MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences includes more than 5,300 students, 300 full-time faculty members, nine doctoral programs and 25 academic majors offered in 14 departments. Complete details about the College of Arts and Sciences or the physics department may be found at www.cas.msstate.edu or www.sociology.msstate.edu.  

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.  

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