AMONG THE ANIMALS: Peace for Geese

Canada goose in Seattle Park (Photo by D. Weinstein)

Canada goose in Seattle Park (Photo by D. Weinstein)

by Christie Lagally

Originally published in City Living Seattle

August 2014

(c) Pacific Publishing Company

Our relationship with Canada geese in the Puget Sound region has a convoluted history. The resident population of geese was originally transplanted here as goslings by the government in the late 1960s as hunting stock. With the mild climate, the fledglings formed a non-migratory population that now lives in the Puget Sound region year-round.

Unfortunately, geese living and defecating in waterfront parks is an annoyance for some. So around 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services (USDA-WS) began conducting region-wide geese roundups by suffocating the birds with carbon dioxide or shooting them on Lake Washington.

Videos and eyewitness sightings of the roundups motivated local residents to demand an end to geese killing, and in 2004, the Seattle Parks and Recreation announced it would no longer use lethal control. However, Wildlife Services did not stop killing geese on behalf of King and Pierce county municipalities, according to reports obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Each year, local cities sign onto an Interlocal Agency Agreement to collectively pay for USDA-WS services. This year’s agreement included Bellevue, Kent, Kirkland, Mountlake Terrace, Renton, Tukwila, Woodinville, the Port of Seattle, Seattle Parks, Tacoma MetroParks and the University of Washington (UW). Most participants pay $2,230 per year to have USDA-WS conduct surveys, addle eggs (to prevent development) and kill geese. USDA-WS Washington state director Roger Woodruff explains that the fees collected for these services, around $25,000 per year, covers all costs for these services.

The UW, Seattle and Bellevue, among others, report that they do not request lethal control, but all the agreement signatories pay for lethal control regardless of whether it is done within their jurisdiction. In 2013, 1,159 geese were killed in King County.

Non-lethal control

Geese in Seattle parks (Photo by D. Weinstein)

Geese in Seattle parks (Photo by D. Weinstein)

According to Woodruff, the geese population in our region soared in the late 1990s, when the agency ramped up lethal control. He says that egg addling is only minimally successful because much of Seattle’s shoreline is privately owned where USDA-WS cannot reach the eggs, and that culling prevents bird strikes at local airports.

However, according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Bird Strikes database, in 1998 and 1999 (at the height of the geese population), there were two strikes involving Canada geese each year at the local airports. By 2004 and 2005, after years of killing geese, the average number of Canada goose strikes was still two per year. Even today, while many cities shun lethal control, only one Canada goose bird strike occurred in 2013. These strikes caused only minor or no damage to the aircraft and no human injury.

Animal advocates maintain that lethal control is cruel and unnecessary and should not be funded by taxpayers. When gassed, geese are corralled into metal boxes, where they struggle and gasp for oxygen. Eyewitnesses report the geese break their necks and wings in a desperate struggle for their lives.

Advocates encourage the use of a wide range of non-lethal alternatives, including expanded egg addling, modifications to park landscaping and harassment of geese with trained dogs and other deterrents. Certain cities do use some of these methods.

Feces-cleanup equipment, such as Naturesweep, can be purchased for park cleanup. For population control, OvoControl (a birth control-laced bird feed) and male goose vasectomies could be used.

Unfortunately, Interlocal Agreement signatories have shown little innovative spirit to implement new solutions. Bellevue, Seattle and UW report never having tried OvoControl, citing concerns about delivering the right dose or feeding non-target species, such as rats.

However, scientists at the USDA National Wildlife Research Center collaborated to develop and test OvoControl. Studies on Oregon geese populations have shown the product is successful at population control and is cost-effective.

The drug is administered during breeding season and would mitigate the problem of not being able to addle eggs on private property. With some ingenuity, a geese-specific feeder could be used to ensure the OvoControl does not reach non-target species.

Similarly, a Bronx Zoo study showed that vasectomies in resident goose populations reduce egg viability from 90 to 12 percent. Perhaps this kind of permanent solution for resident geese could be sustainable for decades.

Petitions circulating

Goose in Seattle park (photo by D. Weinstein)

Goose in Seattle park (photo by D. Weinstein)

For 15 years, geese management in King County has been a revolving door of human-goose conflicts. When agencies pay only $2,230 per year, it is not surprising that USDA-WS services are not sustainable and geese conflicts continue to occur. UW reports having to continually clean up geese feces at significant cost, but it continues to rely on USDA-WS.

A local group, Peace for Geese, is asking cities to stop killing geese and focus only on humane alternatives. As a matter of humane justice, taxpayer funds should be used for non-lethal, region-wide, sustainable, innovative solutions to geese population management. A petition is available asking cities to make this shift, and Peace for Geese is asking you to sign.

Hopefully, Puget Sound citizens will demand that our cities stop killing urban wildlife and implement long-term, humane measures for our resident geese.

To learn more, visit the Peace for Geese Project on Facebook and sign the petition at http://www.change.org/petitions/puget-sound-area-officials-stop-killing-canada-geese#sthash.MhG0yhSe.dpuf

CHRISTIE LAGALLY is the editor of “Living Humane,” a news site on humane-conscious lifestyles at livinghumane.com. To comment on this column, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.

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