USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in partnership with the Rhode Island State Conservation Committee and Rhode Island Conservation Districts is offering three workshops on Canada Goose abatement for livestock and agricultural producers throughout Rhode Island. The third workshop is being held Tuesday, June 28 at 4:30 p.m. at the USDA-NRCS Office at 60 Quaker Lane in Warwick.
With the resident Canada Goose population expanding form 10 to 17 percent each year, it’s time that farmers and other large property managers have to consider what to do with the beautiful birds that can, in large numbers, do significant damage to the environment.
“They can each eat about four pounds of grass a day and when they defecate and it goes into the water, they can cause huge algae blooms and deprive the water of oxygen and kill fish,” said Jessica Blackledge. “We don’t have to kill them to control them but we can modify their habitat so that certain places are less attractive to them.”
Last week, officials in New York City announced their second culling of the geese from their public lands this year. Last year, New York City and Nassau County killed more than 1,600 of the birds, with 370 of them from Prospect Park in Brooklyn alone.
According to the Wall Street Journal, public reaction to the New York program has not been favorable and has ranged from indignation among animal lovers and frustration among social workers that the dead birds were disposed of in a landfill and not properly processed and delivered to financially stressed food banks and soup kitchens.
In Rhode Island, no such culling is planned yet but the population increases, if they continue unabated, will make the Canada Goose avis non grata in Rhode Island’s public places.
“They are a problem,” acknowledged Roger Williams Park Superintendent Bob McMahon. “And I have to say we haven’t handled it as well as we could.”
McMahon spoke of one area of the system of ponds that is totally overloaded with the geese to the point where they reduced the area where they congregate to bare soil, which adds to the erosion of the banks and the flow of an evermore prodigious amount of feces into the ponds, effectively spoiling them for any other species, other than the ducks and pigeons who are there to take advantage of the public’s misguided affection for the geese.
“We have put up signs asking people to not feed the geese but they take the signs down and feed them anyway,” he said.
McMahon said they have tried several ways to get rid of the geese, including hiring a dog to chase them but they always come back.
“It’s getting to the point that we will have to literally remove them,” said McMahon, although just how they will do that remains to be decided. “We hope to get a handle on a plan by the fall. People have to realize they may be cute but they are a real nuisance.”
“Resident population” is the operative word when it comes to abatement. Migratory geese are not the problem; once they have had a little rest and food, if they stop here at all, those geese go south for the winter and farther north for the summer.
“Migratory geese have a much shorter life-span,” said Blackledge, who represents the Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District and coordinates the workshops. She said their lives are cut short by the stress and the dangers of migrating. “The resident geese can live for 25 years and produce seven to eight offspring each year.”
The workshops are to help farmers or other large property managers develop a management plan for their property and provide information about what actions are the most effective and which may be funded through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
Resident Canada Geese populations can inflict significant damage on agricultural land by affecting water quality, causing crop loss and eventually erosion, as they strip ponds and riverbanks of the vegetation that anchors the soil.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, heavy concentrations of fecal droppings lead to excess nutrient enrichment of ponds and lakes. The nutrients lead to excessive aquatic plants such as algae and other nuisance plants. Increases in algae limit the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water for other life. These large, dense geese populations also pose a risk to other birds by displacement or through the transmission of avian diseases.
According to the National Geographic, the Canada goose is one of the best-known birds in North America. It is found in every contiguous state and Canadian province.
Because of changing weather, settlement, and farming patterns, many geese altered their migrations. Typically, the birds summered in northern North America and flew south when cold weather arrived. This cycle endures, but some have shortened their flight to wintering grounds in the southern U.S. and Mexico. Other geese have become permanent residents of parks, golf courses, suburban developments, and other human habitats across much of North America. In some areas, such as airports, they are so numerous that they are considered a nuisance.
“In Rhode Island, the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Services deal with the geese at airports,” said Blackledge, who said they haven’t become a nuisance on a large scale here. “There are certain contractors that they use that have experience with the birds but I’m not sure exactly what they do to them. I know some of them get relocated.”
As fertilizers, the geese have prodigious talent and just 50 geese can produce two and a half tons of excrement in a year. A pond or lake or marsh with that many geese can make a mighty big mess for waterfront homeowners and around the ponds and water traps of golf courses.
When the birds do migrate, they form aerodynamic “V” formations and can cover 1,500 miles in just 24 hours with a favorable wind, but typically travel at a much more leisurely rate. These noisy groups honk their way along established paths that include designated “rest stops.” These social birds remain in flocks year-round, except while nesting.
National Geographic considers the Canada goose representative of a successful wildlife protection. It’s hard to believe the program that revived dwindling numbers in the beginning of the 20th century to the millions of birds today. The birds were guarded by law and even reintroduced in some areas where their numbers had become low. Today, the geese are a popular game bird but are not kept in check with hunting in Rhode Island. Which is why NRCS is offering a pilot conservation program to help manage resident populations. Conservation practices eligible for financial assistance through the EQIP program include Tree and Shrub Establishment; Early Successional Habitat Management; Conservation Cover; Fencing; Upland Wildlife Management; and Wetland Wildlife Management.
Although specifically designed to help farmers cope with an expanding geese population, the workshops are open to everyone. Farmers are encouraged to learn about Canada Geese and strategies for coexistence.
As far as Blackledge is concerned, the more we do to abate the problem by managing the habitat of the birds, the farther away we get from programs like that in New York. But the situation in Roger Williams Park is bound to produce strong reactions among the many fans of the animals, many of whom don’t always know what’s best for their feathered friends.
“They give them bread, which is not good for them,” said Blackledge, “but they do love their geese.”
There is sure to be a strong reaction if the feeders arrive one day and find the geese have all been taken away.