Battle against geese never ends
At the Alverthorpe Park golf course in Abington, just beyond the second hole, geese glide idyllically on the lake.
That they represent one of the great wildlife success sagas in natural history does nothing for Doug Wendell.
"They're horrible," said Wendell, the township's park director.
In Downingtown, where goose-patrol crocodiles have been prowling the waters for several years, Jack Law can relate. The geese have long since figured out that the crocodiles are fake. "There are just as many geese swimming in the ponds as before," said Law, the borough's public works director.
In fact, for geese, it doesn't get much better than it does around here.
Southeastern Pennsylvania has one of the densest populations of Branta Canadensis maxima - or "resident" Canada goose - in the nation, said Harris Glass, state director of wildlife services for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
After leveling off for a few years, the numbers spiked in 2010. It's too early to know whether that's a trend reversal, said John Dunn, wildlife specialist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, but it bears watching.
At least one local observer is looking for another jump in 2011. Bob Lohoefer, owner of the Goose Guys, a Montgomery County service that uses border collies to chase away unwanted fowl, said that from what he had seen, the mating season was off to a rip-roaring start.
Last year, the Game Commission counted more than 230,000 full-time residents in Pennsylvania, producing roughly 115,000 pounds of droppings daily. About a third resided in the 13 southeastern counties, or 16 per square mile. The geese also are partial to the Garden State. An estimated 80,000 geese inhabit New Jersey full time, according to the Department of Environmental Protection, or 11 per square mile.
So what's the problem? Goose droppings have fouled waterways, not to mention innumerable shoe bottoms. "It's not too pleasant when little kids are out there playing soccer and there's goose poop everywhere," said Derek Dureka, the Upper Dublin Township parks and recreation director.
Geese eat grass, and their droppings can kill it, Glass said. Geese can be aggressive, and on occasion they are airport hazards, as they were famously in New York in January 2009.
But Edita Birnkrant, New York director of Friends of Animals, argues that goose hazards and the overpopulation problem are greatly overstated. " 'There's too many. There's too many,' " she said she kept hearing. "But what model are we using to decide 'too many'?"
The Friends say nonlethal methods, such as less-inviting landscapes that include high grass, would help with goose crowd-control. The Coatesville Area School District has had some success in keeping geese off ball fields by using large wooden dog decoys, said groundskeeper Pedro Quinones.
But an overarching point, Birnkrant said, is that geese are getting a bad rap. She said resident geese might have been wrongly implicated as causing the emergency landing in the Hudson River of a US Airways jet after takeoff. She believes those geese were Atlantic flyway migrants, not residents.
The migrants are separate geese. They travel annually from Canada to points south. That population, under stress from predators and hunting, is decreasing.
The locals have a different origin. At the turn of the century, wildlife managers introduced captured geese into flyway states where numbers were dwindling.
So-called "giant" geese - they are a few pounds heavier than the others - were imported from the upper Midwest and released in Pennsylvania in the 1930s, according to Pennsylvania State University expert Margaret Brittingham. They multiplied.
Geese were once welcome. In the 1970s, Mayor Frank L. Rizzo, the tough-talking ex-police commissioner, set aside money in Philadelphia to feed geese so plentiful along the Schuylkill.
Over time, however, geese became public nuisance No. 1 on the Wildlife Service list. The population flourished as humans did everything but build dude ranches for them.
Hunting would be the most efficient way to prune the population, experts agree. Development, however, has mitigated hunting, and the close-cropped grass of lawns and golf courses makes for delightful goose habitats - places such as Alverthorpe Park.
Wendell said he had tried almost everything - spreading a geese-repelling grape solution on the grass, letting the grass grow, placing rocks around the lake, setting off fireworks, spraying corn oil on the eggs while fighting off an airborne foe with a ski pole.
Finally, Wendell turned to an ever more popular option: He called in the Wildlife Service, which, as a last resort, will "addle" - remove or shake - eggs and gas a percentage of the nesting geese. The meat is donated to food banks.
But Glass said that the agency didn't want to eliminate the population and that humans needed to accept the fact that geese were going to be part of the landscape indefinitely.
"To be goose-free," he said, "is probably not in the cards."
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