By Bob Confer
Niagara Gazette — It’s obvious to everyone but the most ardent animal lovers that we have a serious problem on our hands with the monstrous Canada goose population. There are now so many resident geese that they have become as ubiquitous and unpopular as ring-billed gulls (“sea gulls”), birds that many people unaffectionately consider flying rats. Unlike gulls, which tend to be an obstacle only to development (see Lockport’s Super Walmart), resident geese pose real problems to the environment, the economy and human safety.
Since they breed like rabbits (one clutch can have 15 eggs) and are colonial in nature (many families assemble in one area and the so-called “gang broods” can have up to 100 goslings), they can alter the chemistry of ponds with their abundant feces. An adult goose will produce almost 2 pounds of it a day. Those droppings, in such great volume, can over-fertilize a pond, killing the fish within. They contain everything from salmonella to E. Coli, which sickens mammals that drink or feed at that pond or anyone who might look to take a dip in it.
Adult geese are grazers and in large flocks they can really do a number to farms when they feast on corn, beans, and alfalfa just as the young and supple plants emerge from their planting. This does irreversible damage to the crops and the losses to New York farmers are in the millions of dollars every year.
What really attracts the attention of policy makers, though, is the threat geese pose to safety. This came to a head in the Empire State in 2009 when a flock of geese accounted for the downing of Flight 1549 onto the Hudson River, just 4 miles from LaGuardia Airport. All 155 passengers and crew survived thanks to the expert piloting of Captain Chesley Sullenberger. If it weren’t for “Sully” they would have met the same demise as the plane itself, which is forever gone to the tune of $60 million.
In the past decade there have been almost 80 reported goose versus aircraft strikes in the United States. Sooner or later, one of those collisions will take dozens of human lives – just as one did in 1995, destroying a $161 million air force plane while killing all 25 people aboard.
To combat these issues, state, federal and local officials decided to do something about it. In 2009, New York’s goose population was estimated to be 250,000 birds. They want to get the numbers down to 80,000 – a major undertaking considering the population grows 10 to 17 percent every year. So, it is now practice for many government organizations to round up and gas flocks of geese, issue nuisance control permits that allow out-of-season and mass killing, and destroy and/or poison eggs. Most recently, in a move that caught the ire of activists, the state allowed hunters to take more geese per day (15, up from 8). As evil as these measures may sound to animal lovers, they are necessary for all of the aforementioned reasons and more.
As a side note, resident geese should not be confused with migratory geese, those harbingers of spring and fall that pass through here in huge numbers every year and are a welcome sight and sound to nature lovers. Those birds frequent larger bodies of water and are just passing through, individual flocks staying anywhere from a few hours to no more than a few days. It is important to keep with federal law and protect these travelers with limited seasons and bag limits while they are on the wing. These visitors from the far north pose limited threat to man and are a welcome part of the environment.
Resident Canada geese are pests, a scourge, and, most appropriately, an invasive species. Ironically, from the late-1950s to 1970s they were introduced to New York and were managed to populate the state by the very governments and agencies now looking to wipe them out. They didn’t belong. But conservation and game officials thought they did. And now we, and the geese, are faced with the unsatisfactory outcomes of those decisions.Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American magazine at TheNewAmerican.com. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer