Canada goose

A year never goes by in our region without at least one newspaper article or TV report about a local goose hunt or cull: from the mass cull of geese in North Park in 2007 to the yearly hunts at several Westmoreland County parks, to mention but a few. Frequently, these hunts and lethal round-ups cause controversy between those who enjoy the presence of the geese or are simply opposed to the use of lethal methods, and those who want a fast-track “solution” to remove issues with goose feces and goose-human competition for space, particularly next to lakes and other water bodies.

How did the magnificent bird whose famous “V” formation flight has inspired awe and wanderlust come to be the reviled object of mass hunts and round-ups, and ultra-sensationalized TV reporting?

The “problem” we are confronted with today with Canada geese, is the result of a human initiative.  Between the 1930s and 1960s, after Canada geese had almost gone extinct due to over-hunting, thousands of “captive-bred” geese were imported into Pennsylvania and other Eastern states from the West to replenish hunting stock. These “immigrants,” instead of resuming their natural migratory patterns, found that they could survive all year round in the Eastern climate.  Given the demise of traditional predators—also through over-hunting—the goose population exploded over time. By the 1990s, with large flocks of geese starting to come into conflict with humans at parks and other leisure spaces, round-ups began to be 1) commonplace and 2) actively promoted by USDA Wildlife Services and other organizations as the “only” viable solution.

However, despite the mass killing, numbers of geese have continued to rise. When a hunt or cull takes place, more geese simply replace the ones killed the following year, as long as the basic attractants are not removed: a mown lawn providing grazing, a water body and an easy source of extra food (often provided by well-meaning humans). Since these attractants usually are not removed, or only partially, the hunts and round-ups find justification to continue. We find ourselves in a situation where using lethal methods to bring about a real change in the goose population would require eradicating a huge “critical mass” of birds that would not only be difficult to achieve, but would be absolutely unacceptable to many people.

Are Canada geese a human health hazard? The claims that humans can become ill through contact with geese feces have been disproved by some of the most renowned experts in the field, see here for more details.

Can human-goose conflicts be managed without killing? Yes! The Geesepeace organization has developed an integrated goose management strategy that, when implemented correctly and completely, has been extremely successful in limiting /reducing goose populations, keeping flocks in separate areas away from human leisure spaces, and has been used worldwide and across the US by communities seeking a non-lethal, long-term solution to their goose “issues.” Visit the Geesepeace website to find out more about the goose management solution that works. The Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese also provides some fascinating facts to learn more about these intelligent and socially complex birds.

Did you know…? Feeding Canada geese is generally not good for them.  Bread, for example, is unhealthy for waterfowl because it fills their stomachs and provides little nutrition. Worse, through attracting them to a specific space, it can also end up getting them killed, as you can read below.

The “food bank” excuse: Frequently, when Canada geese are rounded up, an attempt is made to justify the act by donating the meat to a food bank or homeless shelter. However, the geese rounded up in parks and other “manicured” urban spaces have typically been exposed to pesticides, heavy metals and PCBs. This makes testing advisable, which must be paid for by the community budget. To avoid that expense, many municipalities end up opting to send the dead geese to the landfill. Where testing is not carried out, the consumption of “round-up” goose meat carries potential risks, especially for pregnant women, children and people with compromised immune systems.

Canada geese are loyal mates and doting parents

Canada Goose kills – the SW Pennsylvania “Hall of Shame”

Here are some of the organized hunts and round-ups that have taken place in our region since 2007, in addition to the state bag limits during goose hunting season.

July 2007: North Park / USDA Wildlife services. 272 geese–adults and goslings–rounded up and slaughtered, causing huge public controversy.  And it may well not be over… In a letter from USDA Wildlife Services to Allegheny County Parks, dated January 16, 2009, USDA Wildlife Services states: “WS recommends fifty percent of the birds be removed by round-up in 2009 for North Park to reduce the number of adult geese to acceptable levels. WS also recommends the continuation of multiple harassment techniques including the use of paintball guns and shoot to enforce for more effective harassment.

October 2007: Riverview Park, City of Pittsburgh. A group of Canada geese (eyewitness reports of the numbers involved are far larger than the official report) were rounded up and killed by USDA Wildlife Services on City property on the South Side. The slaughter was financed by private corporation RIDC, which owns property fronted by a large mown lawn across the river on Second Avenue. To date, the lawn remains, despite being the main attractant. Despite requests from animal protection groups, the City has not posted educational “no feeding” signs on its riverbank property to discourage public feeding.  Not surprisingly, the geese are still there, still being fed.

Other RIDC kills: While RIDC refrained from killing geese in 2009 at its Second Avenue site, brought into the spotlight after the 2007 round-up, they did hire the USDA to kill geese on at least one of their other sites, Duquesne, in 2009, setting a goal of killing 50% of the geese present on the site.

Westmoreland County: Twin Lakes Park, Mammoth Park, Northmoreland Park, Indian Lake (North Huntingdon): Canada goose hunts have become more or less an annual or twice-a-year event. No real efforts have been made to use effective non-lethal methods to resolve the claimed goose problems (North Huntingdon planted a few shrubs around the lake, sprayed on some repellent and then promptly gave up in the face of pressure from local hunters). Update September 2010: North Huntingdon goose hunts have been suspended after local residents complained of buckshot reaching their yard. See our post here.

Brady’s Run, Beaver County: Now holds annual goose hunts, despite public outcries and a statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreeing that hunts at the site in 2009 were “baited” and therefore illegal, after pressure from animal protection groups.