Animal lovers cry foul over new federal rules on geese

Proposed rules aim to cut Canada geese population

By: Lauren Burgoon
   Nearly every day, just about at 4 p.m., a curious thing happens over Allentown.
   Like clockwork, what seems like hundreds of Canada geese take flight from Doctor’s Creek with a great whoosh. The birds form a dense pack soaring through the air toward Washington Township. At some point the congregation turns north, then turns again. Ending a circled flight over the borough, the group lands dramatically in the creek, blanketing the water.
   It’s a strange, entertaining sight to behold, but the daily flight also means the constant presence of the large waterfowl — a presence some want dramatically reduced over the next decade.
   Those people could soon get their wish. Rules proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would stop requiring a federal permit to destroy Canada goose eggs (state registration would still be required) and extend hunting seasons.
   The rules aim to cut the resident Canada geese population from 3.2 million to 2 million nationwide and from 95,000 to 41,000 in New Jersey by 2015.
   Several towns, which have struggled to drive Canada geese from parks and fielded dozens of complaints about the noise and pervasive droppings — each adult goose produces 1 to 3 pounds of waste daily — are likely to welcome the decreased population plan.
   Advocates say the rules will improve human-geese relations and will only target resident geese, as opposed to migratory birds protected by federal laws and international treaties. But opponents, such as Sharon Pawlak of the Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese, say the regulations are driven by little more than revenue and an excuse to eliminate what amounts to a nuisance, not a serious health threat, as some claim Canada geese are.
   "There is no data to support the geese are a health risk and warrant mass destruction. There is no data to support environmental damage that can’t be easily reversed," said Ms. Pawlak, the coalition’s national coordinator.
   The coalition suspects money is at the heart of the issue. Ms. Pawlak said the proposal to extend Canada goose hunting season into August coincides with a popular vacation time. The extra licenses will bring in revenue but will not decrease goose populations since shots cannot be fired in corporate parks, playgrounds and other public places Canada geese gather, she said.
   "Until the profit is taken out of wildlife management, our wildlife will continue to die at the hands of the very agency created to protect the animals," Ms. Pawlak said.
   Ms. Pawlak said another motivating factor to easing permit rules is the nuisance factor. While some people might enjoy watching a gaggle of geese, what the animals leave behind is often less welcome.
   "But (Canada geese) shouldn’t have to be killed just because they poop," she said. "It’s a big misconception that this is a health risk and it’s simply not been proven to be true. When’s the last time you heard of someone getting sick from a goose? This is just a way to demonize them and justify the killing."
   Canada geese waste is only "recycled grass and grain and carries no more bacteria than other (animal feces) do," she added.
   The coalition advocates other nonlethal methods to remove Canada geese, such as the border collie service that Washington Township employs. Trained dogs menace, but do not physically touch, the geese, making the environment unappealing for the birds.
   Other towns, such as Plumsted, have tried to cut the problem off at the source by installing rocks, hard grasses and other materials uncomfortable to geese feet. Creating high banks along ponds and lakes also works to keep out geese, which tend to relocate to a more agreeable area rather than adapting to unpleasant locales.
   East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov declined to comment on the Fish and Wildlife proposals, citing unfamiliarity with them. But, she said, geese do cause health hazards by leaving droppings, particularly around water basins in the Twin Rivers section.
   "Even when we have a Planning Board application before the town, we ask the applicant to address it," the mayor said. "We try not to create situations that are going to be an attraction for the geese."
   While Ms. Pawlak characterizes geese as only a nuisance, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said there are documented cases of Canada geese causing real problems. Nicholas Throckmorton pointed to a 1995 plane crash in Alaska when all 24 people onboard were killed after a flock of geese and the plane collided.
   Canada geese are prevalent after populations were introduced into areas and the flocks stopped migrating. Most states along the eastern seaboard have resident populations of the waterfowl.
   Changing the rules on resident Canada geese will put wildlife control into states’ hands where it belongs, Mr. Throckmorton said.
   "States can follow these rules if they choose to. Since the geese aren’t going anywhere, this is really a local issue. Communities can determine what the appropriate number (of geese) is for themselves," he said.
   The proposed rules would require states to report how many geese eggs are addled, allowing the federal office to keep track of goose populations. Eggs are addled by puncturing the shell, shaking the egg vigorously or covering the shell with oil. In each case, the goose embryo will die. If the eggs are left in the nest, the hen assumes the eggs are fine and will not lay a second nest. Simply removing the eggs from the area will cause a second nesting.
   The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the resident Canada goose management plan in November. The rules are expected to go into effect shortly.
   New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection can then decide whether the state wants to participate by administering addling permits inside the state. DEP spokeswoman Karen Hershey said the department has not taken a position yet.
Staff writer Marisa Maldonado contributed to this story.