More than 3,000 Canada geese that have taken up residence at airports, golf courses, business parks and housing developments in Virginia got a reprieve yesterday when a federal judge blocked plans to round them up for slaughter.

The ruling marked the second straight year that U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has stymied government plans to move against a burgeoning goose population in Virginia. Both times, the geese were saved through lawsuits filed by the Humane Society of the United States. In each case, the judge found the government had not followed necessary legal procedures.

The decision comes just as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with Virginia officials, was about to round up the geese and take them to slaughter. The roundups are timed to take place in early summer when the geese lose their feathers and become flightless. That molting period will end within a week, advocates said, when the geese can avoid being caught by simply flying away.

"There are other strategies and solutions if there are conflicts with geese," said Nancy Perry, grass-roots director of the Humane Society. "Other states and communities have found nonlethal methods to be effective."

Rather than crating up geese and taking them to poultry slaughterhouses, wildlife advocates maintained that fencing, landscaping and other diversionary alternatives could curtail any problems caused by a growing goose population.

The Virginia plans called for the roundup of 3,245 Canada geese from 23 sites, including Reagan National and Dulles International airports, the FBI Academy in Quantico, the area surrounding Fort Belvoir and the Loudoun Golf and Country Club. Roundups also were planned at five other Virginia airports, as well as golf courses, businesses and residential communities.

Virginia officials began pushing the initiatives two years ago as a way to control a growing goose population. Many Canada geese choose to live in Virginia year round, gathering in grassy areas near ponds and lakes. This has led to complaints about excessive droppings, noise and property damage, officials said.

The first Virginia roundup in 1997 led to the killing of about 1,700 Canada geese. Since then, the Humane Society has focused on Virginia as part of its nationwide campaign to protect the birds. Perry and other advocates said that geese have generated little controversy in Maryland or the District but that Virginia officials repeatedly have turned to roundups as the best approach.

Last summer, the Humane Society and other wildlife groups went to the courthouse in Washington and persuaded Kollar-Kotelly to stop the roundup of 1,300 geese in Virginia. The judge said officials failed to study the environmental impact of the actions. In a subsequent ruling, she permitted the killing of 150 geese at Reagan and Dulles airports for safety reasons.

This year, the judge focused her ruling on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, passed by Congress in 1918 to protect most species of birds from exploitation. She said she interpreted the act to mean that any party--including the federal government--must obtain permits from the Interior Department before killing Canada geese. Government lawyers contended they were exempt from the permit process, saying the law was meant for the private sector only.

Government officials declined comment on the judge's decision, saying they needed more time to review the 23-page opinion.

CAPTION: A federal judge spared more than 3,000 Canada geese in Virginia from the slaughterhouse yesterday.