Debate grows about efforts to relocate urban Canada geese

Minneapolis (AP) – As the metro area continues efforts to
control its Canada goose population, one of the most effective
goose relocation efforts may be running out of places to send
unwanted goslings.

The DNR’s urban goose management program collects Canada geese
from more than 50 metro cities and county parks. Jim Cooper, a
retired University of Minnesota professor who oversees the program,
expects to gather 3,500 to 4,000 geese this year.

The adults are slaughtered and most of the youngsters are
shipped out of state before they learn to fly – because geese
return to nest in the place they learned to fly.

Iowa officials expect to take 1,500 to 2,000 goslings from
Minnesota this year, but they have indicated they may not need any
more geese.

“I think there will be a solution, but it likely won’t make
everyone happy,” Cooper said. “It wouldn’t be good to abandon this
program.”

Without some sort of controls, Cooper estimates, the Twin Cities
would host more than 300,000 giant Canada geese. Instead, the Twin
Cities is one of the few major metro areas nationwide to reduce its
goose population, said Bryan Lueth, urban area wildlife manager for
the DNR.

The Twin Cities area has about 17,500 Canada geese. That’s down
from a peak of 25,000 in 1994.

But even with the numbers down, some park officials say people
have become less tolerant of the birds and the mess they leave
behind. One Canada goose produces about 2 pounds of droppings a day
– a flock of 40 birds produces nearly 600 pounds a week.

“It’s difficult to putt a ball through 100 geese on the green,”
said Larry Gillette, wildlife manager for the suburban Three Rivers
Park District.

The increased number of geese in the metro area also can damage
water quality. Fecal material washing into lakes could increase
bacteria levels and make the water unsafe for swimming. It also
could raise phosphorous levels and potentially create algae
blooms.

The giant Canada goose was thought to be extinct for nearly 30
years. In 1962, a biologist discovered the bird in Rochester, said
Steve Wilds, regional migratory bird chief for the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service.

The plan to reintroduce the bird to its natural range was
successful. The bird did well in the city – there were few
predators and grass was well-manicured for easy walking. Water was
abundant.

“Water and grass. That’s about all they need,” Wilds said. “No
one dreamed they would take over the Cities.”

There’s a wide range of beliefs about how to handle the bird
population. Animal rights activists have spurred debate about
programs that kill adult geese and use the meat to stock local food
shelves.

Michael David Feld, national program director for “Geese Peace,”
said cities like Boston and Rockford, Ill., are adopting what his
organization bills as more humane and more effective goose control.
The multipronged approach includes oiling the eggs to prevent them
from hatching and using border collies to persuade geese to move
elsewhere.

Cooper said he has experimented with other control methods but
that “removing the geese is one-quarter as expensive and four times
more effective,” he said.

Feld said volunteers are eager to be outdoors in search of nests
to oil the eggs. “They’ll even bring their own corn oil,” he
said.

He said border collies, buoyed with special yellow life jackets
that give them endurance in the water, can scare off remaining
birds.

In Minnesota, Bill Johnson and John Kellner don’t outfit their
border collies with life jackets, but the dogs have spent a decade
driving geese from golf courses, gated communities, businesses and
housing complexes.

Wildlife officials argue that dogs can ease the problem but they
cannot cure it.

Meanwhile, some communities are resigned to living with the
honkers. In Rochester, Silver Lake hosts 40,000 geese, said city
park superintendent Roy Sutherland.

“It’s a tremendous tourist attraction,”he said. “They’re fat and
they’re sassy. And here’s a bit of trivia: They poop 22 times a
day.”

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