NEWS

Canada geese here to stay: Attempts to control the growing population of geese are often ineffective

Paula Chan

Massachusetts is home to more than 30,000 Canada geese that don't know they're supposed to be in Canada.

At the Easton Country Club in South Easton, 80 geese have taken to nesting and breeding between two ponds on the 10th fairway.

"We just go around them," said Matt Ponte, superintendent of the golf course. "We let them do their thing and hopefully they'll fly away."

But goose excrement creates an obstacle course in cemeteries and private lawns all year round, and aggressive mothers protecting their goslings from perceived threats are no longer confined to the autumn.

Year-round-resident Canada geese are generally considered a subspecies or hybrids, originating in captivity and then released into the environment.

Many are descendants of geese released by waterfowl hunters after live decoys were outlawed in 1935.

Unlike salmon, which will often travel fantastic distances to breed, Canada geese have no natural instinct to relocate and therefore don't migrate unless they are shown the way. No evidence exists documenting breeding between resident geese and migratory geese.

Local resident geese have thrived under relatively stable habitat conditions, low numbers of predators, and the virtual absence of waterfowl hunting in urban and suburban areas.

At Ocean Spray, located in Lakeville, 50 geese have taken over the entrance to the 345-acre property, and they aren't afraid of cars.

"Most were born here. This is all they know," said Frank Cerce, manager of office services. He's tried using coyote cutouts, but the geese were not frightened - they began biting the plastic predators.

Horns emitting animal noises every 15 minutes only worked for a couple of days, and owl reflectors accomplished absolutely nothing.

A professional border collie was hired, but the geese just surrounded the dog and scared it off. Cerce is hesitant to attempt this again because he doesn't want to see either the geese or the dog injured.

"I don't want to hurt (the geese)," he said. "I just want to move them."

But he isn't very optimistic.

"If I were a goose this would be my ideal environment," he said. "Nice water, nice sun, no one really bothers me. It'd be like going to a good summer camp."

Canada geese are federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and considered an international resource. But they hiss and chase, and the barbs in their bills can tear skin.

Cerce just wants to keep them away from the road, and has contacted the state about a permit to cull the eggs next spring.

Robert Bermier, general foreman for the golf course at D.W. Field Park in Brockton, remembers talking about culling eggs a few years ago, but he is dealing with 750 acres, and the geese also nest on islands that are part of the property.

"It would take weeks to find the eggs," Bermier said.

Instead, he's tried grape chemical spray, sprinklers, brush blocks made from branches to keep hundreds of geese from coming across the street from the park, and three-dimensional coyote cutouts.

"Some things work for a week or two, but then the geese get used to them and come right back," Bermier said.

Employees spend between eight and 10 hours a week just chasing geese and occasionally bring in their dogs to do the running around for them, "but we can't be here from sunup to sundown."

Exacerbating the problem are people who bring in bags of bread despite posted signs prohibiting feeding the geese. The park has considered making an example of someone by issuing a ticket, but hasn't done so yet.

"No matter what you do, it's a never-ending battle," Bermier lamented.

Canada geese nest in every contiguous state. The Aleutian, a subspecies of the Canada goose, was once endangered after arctic foxes were introduced to its breeding islands in an effort to develop a fur industry. But by the time the Aleutian was removed from the endangered species list in 2001 the population had already reached a size nearly five times the population objective set by the recovery team.

All Canada geese, but resident Canada geese in particular, demonstrate consistently high annual production and survival. But between property damage, geese intimidation tactics, and natural resource damage due to overgrazing and fecal contamination, not everyone is championing the species.

Bald eagles are a major predator of geese and were finally removed from the endangered species list in June, but this development seems highly unlikely to offer any relief.

Cerce just focuses on keeping the geese off the road.

"On weekends they're on their own," he said. "And I think they're out there to stay."