Pennsylvania communities struggle with Canada geese
TRAFFORD, Pa. — The resident Canada geese that congregate in local parks might be pretty to look at, but the droppings they leave have officials struggling to eliminate the birds and their mess.
“It’s interesting trying to rouse 75 geese at 2 a.m.,” Trafford Borough Manager Richard Sahar said of attempts to get the birds to find another home other than the 18-acre B.Y. Park along Route 130.
The scare tactics worked, but the geese eventually returned, said Sahar, who estimated about 30 remain at the park.
“We’ll have to do this for at least a few years,” he said.
The problem with geese fouling the park with droppings has gotten so bad that some people don’t want to rent the pavilion, Trafford Councilman Dennis Hockenberry said.
With a pond surrounded by groomed ballfields at Penn Township’s municipal park in Harrison City, it’s no wonder that about 45 geese have invaded the park, Penn Township Manager Alex Graziani said.
“It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet that keeps them staying here,” Graziani joked.
Resident geese have been a nuisance for decades, said Tom Fazi, the Pennsylvania Game Commission information and education supervisor at the Southwest region office in New Florence.
“Their population is all over the Eastern U.S. It’s not just a Pennsylvania problem,” Fazi said.
The resident goose population has exploded in Pennsylvania over the past 60 years as its birds lost their ability to migrate or never learned it, said Margaret Brittingham, a wildlife resources professor at Penn State’s University Park campus.
Resident geese stay in one area, while the traditional migratory geese fly north in the spring and south in the winter.
After nearing extinction about a century ago, the geese that were reintroduced to the area did not take to long-distance migrations, Brittingham said. Adding to the problem is that resident geese are larger than migratory geese, thereby producing more waste. A single goose can defecate every 20 minutes, up to 2 pounds each day, according to several goose management websites.
The game commission says the growth of the state’s resident Canada geese population has been “phenomenal,” rising to about 240,000 in 2014, from about 90,000 in 1989. The state’s southwestern and northwestern counties have some of the highest populations.
Dan Miller, North Huntingdon’s parks and recreation director, recalled several years ago when the resident geese at Indian Lake Park were so prolific that the park staff had to pressure wash the walking path twice a day.
The township tried a variety of methods to control the geese, which at times topped 100. Landscaping and fencing was added, the lake was aerated to interrupt sleeping patterns, and noises and strobe lights were deployed.
“There is no one particular method to stop the geese,” Miller said.
Hunting is an option
The population became such a nuisance that limited hunting was permitted as far back as 2003, and then again on an annual basis from 2007 to 2012. Hunting season is limited and permits are needed because the geese remain protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
Fazi said Pennsylvania’s “liberal hunting season” on resident Canada geese — about 12 weeks spread from September to February — is a viable way to limit the problem.
The hunts draw some opposition, including from Chad Raith of Jeannette, who was part of a small Protect Indian Lake Geese group.
Hunting the geese is un-necessary when so many humane methods are available, Raith maintained.
Reducing the number by hunting is complicated because of the possibility of hunters shooting the migratory geese, Brittingham said.
Experts: Don’t feed geese
All concerned say that one of the first acts is to stop people from feeding the geese — tossing them bread.
“That makes them a little more comfortable and dependent on people,” said Mike Sweeney of North Huntingdon, owner of Nuisance Wildlife Solutions.
Manor Borough has asked residents to not only refrain from feeding them, but also to harass the birds that find Brush Creek and the adjacent groomed park grasses a nice place to live.
Trafford, Manor and North Huntingdon will have difficulty controlling the goose population around park lakes because the manicured lawns are attractive to the birds. Brittingham said they like to look at their surroundings while grazing to make sure no natural predators, such as coyotes and foxes, lurk nearby.
The easiest step for park managers to take is to let the grass grow and plant shrubs along the shorelines, making their surroundings less appealing, Brittingham said.
That’s the solution favored by the Humane Society of the United States.
“Habitat modification makes the property a little less appealing to what the geese want,” Sweeney said.