The First Step Toward Resolving Conflict
CAN WE AT LEAST ALL AGREE THAT THEY ARE “CANADA GEESE” AND NOT
By Ann Muller
Okay, I concede that one point to the wildlife management agencies.
But that’s it! No, Canada geese are not “nuisances”; no, they do not
cause disease in humans; no they don’t jump on people’s backs and bite
them on the neck.
Headlines have just about read:
“RESIDENT CANADA GEESE WELDED TO CORPORATE LAWNS”
“RESIDENT CANADA GEESE CONTAMINATE GOLF COURSES”
“RESIDENT CANADA GEESE SPREAD DISEASE TO CHILDREN IN PARKS”
“RESIDENT CANADA GEESE POLLUTE RESERVOIRS”
John or Jane Q. Public, that great expert on every subject, has been
quoted ad nauseam. I’m beginning to suspect that J.Q.P. is just fronting
for public interest groups, if you know what I mean. If you want a lie
repeated, and you yourself don’t want to look like a jerk, just have
J.Q.P. make the statements for you in press releases or Letters to the
In addition, have your public relations person or “special
correspondent” put out reports to terrify the public. We all know
reporters don’t bother to research what you’re saying. Anyway, if the
press release comes from the government, it’s tantamount to being the
gospel. You know the syndrome: They said it, we print it and that
Let’s look at each gem on its own merits:
“RESIDENT CANADA GEESE WELDED TO CORPORATE LAWNS”
Lawns with ponds are veritable goose salad bars. With their freshly
mown grass down to the water’s edge, they are Goose Nirvanae.
Recommended as a non-lethal method for dissuading geese from this
situation is low netting surrounding the water’s edge. It keeps the
birds from easy access to the water if they’re on the grass, or to the
grass if they’re in the water. Geese, though not quite as lazy as we,
don’t enjoy flying from the grass to the water and back again. Barriers
that force the geese into flight act to deter them from the area.* There
are numerous eyewitness accounts of this successful technique. One
witness is no less than president of a branch of the Audubon society who
said that she had a view of two bodies of water from a hilltop in
Pennsylvania, one had netting around it, and the other had none. Not
surprisingly, the one with netting had no geese, the other had geese. (I
don’t mean to make geese sound like a disease but you get the point.)
“RESIDENT CANADA GEESE CONTAMINATE GOLF COURSES”
Geese think that fairways with ponds are great places, too.
Unfortunately for them and for humans, most golf courses are routinely
sprayed with 13 different pesticides, many of which are toxic to humans
and wildlife. That, however, doesn’t bother health departments. Instead,
what bothers them is the green lumpy stuff. The Rockland County
Commissioner of Health said Canada goose droppings cause schistosomiasis,
psittacosis, and salmonellosis, and besides, they just look sinister.
Pesticides? Carcinogens? Why you can’t even see them. Recommended for
this situation is methyl anthranilate (M-A), which is grape flavoring.
Geese detest the taste of grass when it’s sprayed with M-A, and it has
worked wonders to dissuade geese wherever it has been tested. Believe it
or not, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which approves toxic
substances daily for all sorts of purposes, has been investigating the
“possible harmful effects of grape flavoring” as a “pesticide” for years
now. The EPA is just being cautious, you know, although per the Food and
Drug Administration, M-A is safe enough for your grape soda, concord
wine and bubblegum.
“RESIDENT CANADA GEESE SPREAD DISEASE TO CHILDREN IN PARKS”
Thanks to the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, we were
able to investigate those claims. Not surprisingly, we found that our
Commissioner of Public Health was spreading unfound rumors. Letters
poured in from M.D.’s (several with Masters of Public Health degrees,
which our Commissioner of Health does not have), D.V.M.’s and nurses
countering the Commissioner’s report. The following should allay your
fears about Canada goose poop causing those diseases.
Salmonellosis, as many know, is caused by raw chicken, eggs and dairy
products. Salmonellosis is transmitted by oral contact with fecal
matter. Unless you are scooping up goose feces and making sandwiches out
of it, you don’t have to worry. You should however, be extremely careful
about bringing uncooked chicken into the house. All 13 treated cases of
salmonellosis in our county for two years running were attributable to
food poisoning. Solution: stay away from eating chicken, eggs, and even
cheese and you’ll be okay.
Psittacosis is a respiratory condition that is extremely rare. It is
gotten by breathing fecal matter in an unventilated environment for two
hours straight. Employees of factory farms or pet stores are at risk,
but there is no way that anyone can get psittacosis in a public park
setting. Solution: don’t sniff bird doo for prolonged periods.
Schistosomiasis cannot be contracted in this country. The vector is a
snail that does not exist here. The only occurrences of it are in people
who come from countries where it is endemic. The vector for the mild,
short-lived skin rash that people refer to here as schistosomiasis is
also a snail. Solution: don’t eat imported snails, or domestic ones just
to be sure.
“RESIDENT CANADA GEESE POLLUTE RESERVOIRS”
I called a chemist at our water company as a concerned citizen to see
what she thought about the reports of Canada geese polluting reservoirs.
The statement met with gales of laughter. Most coliform bacteria in
reservoirs are from leaching septic tanks, but the bacteria are normally
so diluted that swallowing some, as we do in lakes, is harmless.
Furthermore, before reaching your home, water is put through a series of
screen filters and ozone gases at the treatment plant. For good measure
chlorine is dumped into the supply (ugh!) Solution: drink directly from
your tap and not the reservoir. Better yet, find a mountain spring.
Bring on the Goose Attacks!
Well with those health arguments knocked out, bring in old faithful
J.Q.P. to continue to rant and rave about disease regardless of
assurances from medical professionals to the contrary. What does J.Q.P.
care about fact? And, if that doesn’t work, bring on the Goose Attacks.
Did you know that Canada geese attack people in their homes and on their
way to church? A town supervisor reported that he was followed into
church by a gaggle of honking Canada Geese. How indecorous! Question:
Why is it that the only people who are “attacked” are those who want to
increase the bag limit for geese or gas them? I ask, is it designing
people or wily geese? Why one poor woman was even held up at beakpoint
as she was getting out of her very own car in her very own driveway!
It’s an outrage that these geese are so oafish! Does that scare you
sufficiently? No? You think it’s funny? Well here’s the new report (two
so far): Canada geese fly onto people’s backs and bite them on the neck,
while loudly honking and flapping their wings. Scared now? Soon we’ll
hear reports about Canada geese that wear Freddy Krueger toenails. I
don’t mean to take the concerns of people lightly. I’m sure they feel
they have valid complaints, but it is important to put it into
perspective. They are in the minority, their complaints are
questionable, and any solution to a real or perceived “problem” can be
“Resident Canada Geese”
Just what are “resident Canada geese” anyway? State game agencies
would like you to believe they are “undesirables” who have permanently
moved next door with green cards. They would like you to believe that
these aliens might get voting status soon if they aren’t stopped.
They want you to think that resident geese attach themselves with
crazy glue to lawns. They want you to think that the gripers are in the
majority and have realistic fears. If you’re not among them, they want
you to think you stand alone and there must be something wrong with you.
What’s interesting is that the game agencies’ definition of a
“resident” Canada goose is not what you think. It does not refer to the
goose in your park, but to the one which nests anywhere south of the
47th parallel or about mid-Quebec and mid-Ontario! So even geese
migrating from Canada, if they nest south of the 47th parallel, are not
considered migratory but resident! The “resident” geese in your backyard
actually fly, regardless of what game agencies want you to think. They
even cross state and national borders.
The “migratory” population (the population that nests above the 47th
parallel) is shortstopping, which means they are just not doing a “full
migration” to the southern states. Of course, we don’t know what
percentage ever did a full migration, or for that matter why they should
(except so that southern state game agencies can sell licenses to shoot
them). The “migrant” population has also sharply declined over the past
few years. The latter has forced lower bag limits and shortened seasons.
Wildlife management agencies are quick to point out that the population
is crashing because of “terrible weather conditions.” They never ever
mention hunting as a cause, but what do you want? Consider the source.
[A recent report, not yet published, from the United States Fish and
Wildlife Service (USFWS), does, for the first time, put the blame for
the crash in part on the impact of hunting.]
“Nuisance Resident Canada Geese”
To get those bag limits up, managers have to do several things. They
have to make a case for the fact that “residents” are not “migrants,” so
shooting them will not affect a declining subspecies. They also have to
figure out a way of gaining access for hunters to the urban and suburban
sites at which the “residents” “reside.” To do that, they need to give
the appearance of a problem, and gain some public support and approval
for reducing the population of what are now termed “nuisance resident
Canada geese.” (The list of adjectives is growing.)
To make a case for residents being a true subspecies, state game
agencies tell you that “residents” lay more eggs than “migrants.” In a
New York Times article, designed to frighten the public into demanding a
reduction of the “nuisance resident” Canada goose population, a federal
wildlife manager was quoted as saying that “resident geese” have larger
clutches than “migrants.” He went on to say that a clutch from a
resident goose consists of 8-10 eggs and suggested multiplying that out
each year to see how quickly the population would explode. Later in a
phone conversation, the agent admitted that a clutch from a “migratory”
goose contained 5.1 eggs while a “resident” clutch contained 5.2 eggs.
My question is: Has anyone besides George ever seen a .1 or .2 egg?
Please let us know if you have, we don’t exactly trust him.
In a publication entitled Branta Canadensis (Canada Goose) put out by
the Department of Natural Resources, it is reported that 30% of all
clutches are unsuccessful. What constitutes success is the hatching of
at least one egg. Many first time goose-moms don’t stay on the nests
long enough for the eggs to be viable. Let’s not forget about predation
of eggs and goslings by raccoons, foxes, dogs, cats and snapping
turtles. The moral of the story is that you cannot look at a nest, smack
your palm against your forehead, and shriek “Oh my god, they’re
multiplying like crazy!” Only a fraction actually survives to adult
hood. Further, geese don’t become sexually mature for three years, and
first time clutches are usually unsuccessful. There are natural checks
on the population all along the way. We’re not even including human
interference, which is massive. You’re asking why you sometimes see
adults with 15 to 20 goslings? Geese that have nested near each other
join together in crèches to care for their young and the young of other
adults that may have been killed. They also care for the young of other
species of waterfowl. Yes, indeed. Canada geese are magnanimous.
Are “Residents” a Subspecies?
As we said, game managers desperately want to find biological
differences between the “migrants” and “residents.” If they can make a
good case for there being true differences, they may be able to make
unilateral decisions for the fate of “resident” geese. Remember, all
migratory birds are protected by The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, an
international treaty which prohibits hunting them between March 10th and
September 1st. In addition, states do not have total jurisdiction over
migratory animals as they do over non-migratory ones, such as deer.
In the case of Canada geese, before states can set bag limits and
seasons for hunting them, they have to clear everything with two
countries’ wildlife agencies: the USFWS and the Canadian Wildlife
Service (CWS), and the flyway of which the state is a member. There are
four flyways in the lower 48. There is even inter-flyway “cooperation.”
It’s a royal pain for managers, as you can imagine. Remember, each sate
wants to offer maximum hunting opportunity to its hunters to keep that
salary coming in. They contend with each other for hunting sales and
don’t want other states shooting the birds before they fly to their
state. Keep in mind how Pittman-Robertson money works. The more hunting
licenses a state sells (population considered) in relation to other
states, the more money it gets from the Feds. No targets, no hunters, no
licenses bought, no excise tax from weapons!
Hunting the Unhuntable
How do they resolve this sticky interstate contention for the same
“resource”? I suspect that their thinking runs along these lines: Let
each state grow its “resident geese” to evolve into “nuisance resident
geese” in the media shortly before hunting season. This way, states
don’t have to worry about the crashing “migratory” population when they
determine bag limits and season lengths. They don’t have to worry about
short stopping before the birds get to their state; and they won’t get
flak from other states and the Feds for shooting too many migrant geese.
Now the problem is: at what point does a goose that looks and acts like
a migrant goose stop being legally protected as a migrant goose? At the
point that they can show that “residents” are truly a subspecies. That’s
going to be a long drawn out process of fudged research, so for
starters, just say that most “migratory” Canada geese don’t arrive here
until late September. That allows them to have a ”special hunt” on
“residents only” somewhere between September 2nd and September 20th
before too many of the “migrants” arrive, and before he risk of shooting
more than 20% of them increases (The USFWS won’t let states shoot more
than 20% of the migrants). A little extra killing in September should
make hunters happy and make up for those reduced bag limits during the
regular season. If the Public campaign has worked well, the “special
season” should make the “public” and politicians happy too. Another
messy problem to overcome is that the birds offered to the hunters to
kill are in people’s backyards, parks, and golf courses. Again, if the
media have cooperated, and have drummed up enough public antipathy, and
made it appear that the “public” is calling for a reduction, hunters may
be able to gain access to heretofore unhuntable areas. What helps is
that the 500’ limit from a person, dwelling or livestock when
discharging a firearm doesn’t apply when shooting waterfowl over a body
of water.** Hunters now don’t have to worry about crowded areas, because
shooting Canada geese can be done with regular folks right there.
Golfers can just continue playing golf, picnickers can just go on eating
their sandwiches, and kids can go on swimming in lakes or pools. In
fact, dodging steel shot will give them more exercise and add pizzazz to
those other forms of recreation.
Meanwhile, they’ll keep up their long-term research to find
biological differences between residents and migrants. Anything
promising yet? Well after megabucks of testing, they’ve found that
residents are heavier. You’d be too, of course, if you weren’t flying as
much, and you were eating your salad bar everyday with croutons. Are
they a different subspecies? Are Laurel and Hardy different subspecies?
“Nature Out of Control?”
In the publication Branta Canadensis it says, “the upsurge in numbers
of geese that has occurred since [the late 40’s] is believed to be
related to: (1) an increase in the numbers of state and federal refuge
areas situated along migration corridors and on wintering areas; (2) an
increase in the available food supply for migrating and wintering geese
resulting from more intensive agricultural practices [Editor’s Note:
Farmers are encouraged to enter into cooperative agreements with state
game agencies.]…The reasons behind the northerly shift of wintering
geese…appears related to the increase in food availability and refuge
areas in more northerly areas [and] hunter harvest. Birds migrating
farther south are subject to greater hunting pressure and are
experiencing lower survival rates…[O]ver the years, those birds
genetically inclined to travel greater distances south have been removed
from the population…[T]here is [also] reason to suspect that the
increase in the numbers of state-reared resident goose flocks may
influence the migration patterns of more northerly nesting geese…and may
act to decoy early migrants and delay their movement southward.”
You’re no doubt thinking by now, “Hey, wait a minute, I thought
wildlife managers were trying to keep the resident Canada goose
population down.” Well, you’re just confused! Wildlife management
agencies want a growing population of “resident” geese so they can help
you resolve your “nuisance” goose population problem with “long-term
management,” which means hunting. New York alone has about 70 management
areas for growing target birds and over three million acres are managed
for waterfowl production in the Atlantic Flyway alone. Forests are
clear-cut, burnt and flooded to expand or create wetlands. Predators of
eggs or youngsters are destroyed. A pet dog or cat that wanders into one
of these management areas can be shot on sight.
Does it look to you like game managers are turning migrants into
residents? “Huh?” you say. “But what about the public and all the
complaints about all the nuisance birds?” I’m glad you asked. Who cares
about the public? Right now, the public doesn’t do much for game
agencies, in spite of the fact that the general public pays in part for
this.*** Look, just tell that pesky public that it is “nature out of
control,” and never ever let them find out that it’s really wildlife
management out of control. When they find out that states and the USFWS
manage millions of acres of goose production areas, tell them that birds
don’t leave those areas and are hot inside only, so it’s none of their
business. If they point out that geese fly, tell them they’re
hallucinating. But unbeknownst to them, I’ve had proof for a year that
“resident” geese fly. Here it is:
In an investigation of 1993 depredation permits in NYS, we found one
from ALCOA. ALCOA has a facility near a wildlife management area in
upstate New York and they were concerned because their toxic effluent is
pumped into ponds from which the birds drink when they escape the
management areas after hunting begins. ALCOA applied for a depredation
permit to harass the geese from the property. (Just as an aside, what is
a hazardous dump site doing near a wildlife management area?) – They
were given a depredation permit, obviously not to save the birds from
death by aluminum, but to save them for death by steel. Game agencies
would rather that bullets get the geese before the aluminum does. Just
think, if bullets don’t get them, they lose money. No targets, no kills,
unhappy hunters, less bullets bought, less excise tax, less hunting,
perhaps no duck stamp sales for the following year, and worse yet, maybe
no hunting license sales.
I have a question: Does it sound to you as though wildlife managers
are great conservationists? Does it sound as though government wildlife
management agencies are fulfilling their mandate to protect wildlife for
all citizens? I maintain that it is indeed hunting and management for
hunting that has caused an urban and suburban Canada goose population.
Managers have done that at the expense of the environment, ecology, the
target species, the target individuals, the economy and citizens’
rights. AND THEY’RE NOT FINISHED! Their purpose is to serve a tiny
special interest group whose direct purchases of licenses, and firearms
and ammunition pay the salaries of wildlife managers so they can
continue programs to increase hunting opportunity. Tell me again that
hunting and management for hunting are a “non-issue”; have no
environmental, ecological or human rights impact! I can’t hear you.
* If we don’t come up with non-lethal ways to dissuade geese, lethal
methods will be used. My gut feeling is the same as yours: “Just leave
the geese alone will ya and get rid of the gripers instead,” but
politicians don’t go for that.
** True for NYS. Check your state for that exception.
*** There is a bill introduced at the time of this writing in NYS
that would dedicate Conservation funds exclusively to direct costs of
hunting, fishing and trapping programs. That means that the 95%
non-hunting public will be paying even more for game managers’ overhead.
The bill would even exclude the endangered species program from
partaking of Conservation Funds! Yet all fines received would go to the
Conservation Fund, even though most of the fines received are from
hunters who were caught killing endangered and threatened species!
Part Two will appear in our Fall issue, continuing to unravel the
convoluted plot to provide “sportsmen and women” (?) with millions of
waterfowl to “harvest” which means “blast to hell” by the year 2000.
Anne Muller is the president of C.A.S.H. and a founding member of the
Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese; she has been
investigating the Canada goose issue since January 1993.