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It begins with a few geese, and leads to a few dozen and finally to TOO MANY! Soon the phones are ringing in the executive's office. And eventually somebody in the maintenance department is faced with the question, "What are we going to do about the Canada geese?"
There Are (Literally) No Magic Bullets
If you're reading this article expecting to find the one perfect answer to the goose management problem, you won't. There are many answers, and each is site specific. Those of us involved in the Canada Goose Management program at the Rockford Park District have heard them all (and, in many cases, tried them).
Getting a good start on the goose management problem is invaluable. Knowing the program's goals and the constraints under which it will operate will enable your agency to better formulate its plan. At Rockford, our goal is "to reach a population of Canada geese that can be appreciated and enjoyed." We are still more than five years away from accomplishing that ambition, even though we began our effort in 2001. Ron Butler, senior manager of maintenance at the district says, "We asked our board to make a 10-year commitment, and despite other financial challenges, they've been pleased with the results so have yet to waiver from that commitment." Having a realistic goal and schedule makes everyone at the agency more comfortable with the program.
When we analyzed what communities involved in successful Canada Goose management had in common, we learned that when a group steps forward and takes a leadership role, the possibilities for success are dramatically increased. To help get the people in our community and particularly our park patrons to help us, we invited them to hear information presented by GeesePeace, Inc. and the Humane Society of the United States.
Following the presentations, the discussion portion of the meetings was of little surprise. There were some who were angry about the legal side of the issue. Geese are protected by the conventions of the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and therefore cannot be touched or harmed without proper authorization. Additionally, most states also have wildlife protection laws that prohibit harmful activities towards wildlife without proper state authorization. While some hot discussions took place between several participants, the remainder of those present helped solidify our original belief that the majority of the people in our community would not tolerate the use of lethal or inhumane methods of dealing with the geese. That put the district and its partners on the path to planning for success.
Elements of a Goose Management Control Program
The program developed for the Rockford district has three elements, which include:
• Population stabilization,
Getting the right mix of those three parts of a goose management initiative is a function of budget, available resources, community commitment and literally the lay of the land (or water) at your agency.
In Rockford, we worked with the Humane Society of the United States and GeesePeace, Inc. to learn their humane way to stabilize a goose population. The stabilization protocol includes the discovery of the development stage of the eggs and, when eggs meet the
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Our program leaders worked closely with Roy Domazlicky of the IDNR to obtain egg depradation permits. Then, Rockford Park District employees, volunteers and partners in the program "oiled" nearly 2,400 eggs at 39 park district and private sites in 2004. The annual effort occurs over a period of nearly eight weeks, as birds do not all lay their eggs at the same time. The procedure includes returning to the nest to retrieve and bury the nonviable eggs as required by the permit. Again, if collected too soon, birds can re-nest.
Thankfully volunteers perform nearly 40 percent of this labor-intensive work. And, with it, they have had a direct impact on the future goose population. In the first four years of the Rockford program, nearly 7,500 eggs have been treated. Statistically, those 7,500 could likely have become 750 breeding pairs, which, in the five succeeding years, could have become 3,000 birds.
The second part of the program, exclusion, is keeping the birds away from properties where their presence deprives park patrons of recreational opportunities. In the Rockford Park District, this includes nearly seven miles of riverfront recreational paths and 45 other affected sites.
To assist in this, the park district owns two Border Collies trained in the art of herding Canada geese. With their handlers, they perform regular patrols of approximately 40 sites throughout the 4,500 acre district.
The Border Collies work most of the year with several exceptions. In heavy snow periods, geese typically go on a short migration to find food and water, making the dogs unneeded. Dogs also receive a break during nesting season, since the only birds moving around then are those too young to nest. Dogs are not used while the birds are grounded during their molt period in June.
At some sites, success has been declared with birds rarely returning. Other areas have been deemed "tolerance zones," where birds are allowed. In the Rockford Park District, one of these areas is a wetland. Because it is between two parks, originally birds were moved from the site. Later it was discovered that if birds were allowed to remain in the wetland area, then they left the two parks alone. Not every site is successful, as birds are very persistent and return repeatedly to their most favored places. Birds may visit from five to 12 sites per day. The dog patrols pay off however, and park patrons appreciate the efforts and the significant difference in "poop factor" in most areas.
But exclusion means more than the use of the Border Collies. The district also controls small site challenges with FlightControl PLUS. Containing a naturally occurring active ingredient, the spray product is used to condition geese to identify the area where the product is applied as not a good place to eat grass. It works in two ways. First, geese experience a temporary but very effective digestive irritation, usually within 20 minutes of eating treated grass. Second, the geese recognize the product visually in an ultraviolet spectrum. The appearance of treated turf is unnatural, and, once conditioned to the digestive reaction, the visual signal of the treated turf provides a warning to the geese not to eat the turf.
The district has also added hand-held laser devises (apdy named Avian Dissuaders) to frighten geese away. Used primarily at dusk, the units help deny the geese their desired roost. Forcing birds to
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a different overnight roost usually means they go somewhere else to find food during the day. The laser unit works by creating a "red spot," and the reflection of that beam spot off of foliage, water or even other birds frightens geese away. It is not necessary to have the laser beam actually touch the birds to be effective (although there is no harm in this if the correct laser is used). Once the roost is completely clear, the birds will not normally return that night.
Geese become a major nuisance when they come ashore to feed and then leave their waste, especially if they are mucking up landscaped areas. Fencing, although not used in Rockford, can be an option in deterring geese. Plantings are perhaps a more aesthetically pleasing alternative. Plantings can be a spot deterrent around lakes and ponds, as long as you give careful consideration to invasiveness of the plant species being used, the amount needed to do an efficient job and the overall appearance to the sites where they are used. You may need to take into consideration how the pond is being used, for example, if this is a fishing site, you'll want to make certain you don't totally diminish that recreational opportunity.
The best landscaping is no, or only small amounts of, grassy areas near the pond. If there must be large lawns near a pond, for example a pond that borders a fairway on a golf course, then you should place tall vegetation along the shoreline. Cattails along with lilies or aquatic grasses can be excellent barriers. There are many other habitat modification possibilities.
Education is the final component of the program. Rockford is trying to teach children to avoid the mistake of feeding wildlife. The Rockford district was very fortunate to acquire the time and talent of a college student looking for a project, which led to the development of an educational component. The educational program, called simply "Let Them Be Wild," consists of reading a story then reinforcing it with games, puzzles, craft projects, stickers, etc. The program can be used in the classroom and is tailored to the age group of the children, offering the most simple of messages: "Please don't feed the geese." When there is no feeding, Rockford believes the human/goose encounters will be reduced, particularly those instances when geese rush towards children and frighten them.
Making and Measuring Progress
Each part of the program carries a cost. Population stabilization, while containing labor costs, is certainly the most efficient place to begin. Most parks and facilities will see the nests as they begin to prepare the locations for spring and summer use. In Rockford, we discovered many nests on the islands located in the Rock River. Each year, new locations are discovered. It seems simple to look at the issue as "not becoming a worsening problem" if there are fewer goslings born each year.
There are still birds in the Rockford Park District and of course the population increases during migration periods. Of note, however, efforts have been extremely successful where it counts. Before the inception of the program, the district customer service office received numerous calls every week complaining about geese and so did park district commissioners. Now this maintenance issue is only on commissioners' agenda for yearly progress reports.
Janet L. Herbert is the project manager for the Canada Goose Management Program at the Rockford Park District.
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