November 25, 2014
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Don't feed the geese

Two weeks ago, a few days after Easter Sunday, we posted a video to our YouTube page, as we so often do. In this particular video, one of our reporters was shown on a trip to Johnston Memorial Park, where she proceeded to feed the wild geese that congregated there.

Now, at the time, those in the video, and those here at the Beacon, were unaware of a law that prohibits the feeding of waterfowl in Rhode Island. It wasn’t until two viewers pointed out that the behavior in the movie, though seemingly innocent, was outlawed.

After some research and digging on the Internet to find the language of the law, we came up emptyhanded – aside from a PDF outlining why it was bad to feed waterfowl. The document does say that feeding waterfowl was banned in Rhode Island in 2003, and for the following reasons:

1. Malnutrition: bread and crackers aren’t a sufficient source of vitamins and nutrients. [What if the parks provided containers of bird feed for people to purchase by the handful?]

2. Dependency: birds will lose their fear of humans and congregate in urban areas where they may need to be removed. [Removal? See hunting regulations below.]

3. Disease: Overpopulation could cause the rapid spread of disease. [If the disease happens to be present in the population.]

4. Environmental degradation: Over-congregation could lead to overgrazing. [If people are feeding them, why would they be grazing?]

5. Water pollution: An overabundance of birds can cause bacteria water that could lead to closure of shell fishing. [Perhaps sewerage leaks should be a larger concern to shell fishers.]

While we don’t question the validity and possibility of any of these things, there are clearly some ways the bullet points of the document can be argued.

A note to the Department of Environmental Management got us the official ruling on feeding waterfowl:

Feeding and baiting wildlife in Rhode Island: feeding wild waterfowl, wild turkey or wild cervids, black bear and coyote is not permitted any time in the state of Rhode Island. (It’s still unclear what the punishment for the offense is.)

But the rest of the document is what ruffled our feathers.

Ok, sure, we can argue with the reasoning, but ultimately we understand why you can’t feed the geese: It’s for their own protection. So why then, with a proper permit, can people shoot them? If it’s as simple as filing for a hunting permit to shoot these birds out of the sky, can’t we have permits for feeding these geese, too?

Oh wait, you can get a permit provided it’s for scientific research, or to bait coyotes for hunting. What the point here is, if a human activity is outlawed for the safety and health of an animal, bravo. But isn’t it contradictory to allow humans (with proper paperwork) to kill that same animal? If the geese knew this, they’d be crying “fowl.”


Comments
2 comments on this item

That's interesting. My guess for why one would allow shooting over feeding is the long term effects to the larger population and ecosystem. As long as the geese population is being monitored properly it would seem reasonable that hunting geese can be done without drastically altering the genetic diversity of the geese, as well as their surrounding ecosystem. Given the reasons stated above, that is not the case for feeding. Intuitively, the much larger number of people who would engage in feeding geese, and the fact that it could be done year round, would create a fairly large selective pressure on the geese population. The negative effects would be amplified if the parks provided nutrition rich bird feed. A "feeding season" would probably lead to more confusion, as well as increase the number of people still tossing out bread and crackers. It seems much easier to just make feeding illegal and minimize the impact of the feeding that is going to happen regardless. Hunting probably has a slight impact on larger birds with larger single color patches on their bellies, but I trust that wildlife management monitors this.

After years of watching the way 'unfiltered' Storm runoff down our Catch Basins go, I am fully aware of the toxins which pollute our streams, rivers, ponds and oceans....and they are not from Geese! I found the satirical commentary to be most humorous and enjoyed the article. Now, after the article was written, did you take one more step and send it off to your local politicians for clarification or to enact something sensible? LOL!

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