Proposed rules cause flap over resident Canada geese

Change could bring killings of bird without U.S. permit

October 09, 2003|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Two leading wildlife advocacy groups charged yesterday that plans to relax federal regulations would lead to mass killings of resident Canada geese.

The proposed rules would eliminate the requirement that state and local agencies get federal permits for specific methods of reducing the resident Canada goose population.

Biologists say the bird's numbers in the United States should be cut by a third, to about 2 million.

"We think this will lead to the wholesale killing of hundreds of thousands of these birds over a 10-year period," said John Hadidian, director of urban wildlife programs at the Humane Society of the United States and a former regional wildlife biologist at the National Park Service.

"We should be trying to promote and encourage and discover ways to solve these problems without killing."

But a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service defended the proposed change as a reduction in bureaucracy, arguing that state and local biologists know best how to address waterfowl problems in their communities.

Resident Canada geese are similar to migratory Canada geese, but generally stay in the same area year-round.

Migratory Canada geese nest in Alaska and northern Canada, traveling south in the winter and north in the summer. Scientists don't think the migratory and resident birds interbreed.

The resident Canada geese in many areas of the United States are descendants of the giant Canada goose, a species that appeared to be extinct in the 1950s.

When a few were discovered near the Great Lakes, biologists tried to revive the species by raising the geese in hatcheries. Then the biologists not only repopulated areas where the birds once lived, but also introduced them to new areas.

Some resident Canada geese are descendants of a different species that was raised in captivity and used as live, tethered decoys for hunting in the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere.

That practice - in which the birds' legs were tied and weighted to keep them from flying away - was banned in the 1930s. The geese were ultimately released to settle in nearby urban and suburban areas.

Unlike mute swans - which Maryland state officials want to kill because they destroy underwater aquatic vegetation - resident Canada geese are mainly considered a nuisance near sources of water, such as city parks and golf courses.

In Howard County, Columbia Association officials have used a border collie since 1997 to scare geese from the community's lakefront parks. The birds' manure droppings are a particular problem.

"We're dealing with wild birds, but it's kind of an unnatural population," said Fish and Wildlife spokesman Nicholas Throckmorton. "We're trying to manage them to human tolerance numbers."

Biologists have concluded that the United States' population of resident Canada geese should be reduced from about 3.2 million to about 2 million. Because the birds are protected by the 1916 Migratory Bird Treaty, the Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for them.

The agency's proposed regulations are part of an extensive environmental impact study that began early last year. The service is accepting public comments through Oct. 20, but final rules aren't expected before late spring.

Paul A. Peditto, director of the Wildlife and Heritage Service at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said yesterday that the agency is developing a position on the proposed changes.

Opponents of the new regulations concede that resident Canada geese are a nuisance in many urban areas. But they argue that the federal government should maintain a more active oversight role to encourage or require nonlethal alternatives.

Laura Simon, urban wildlife director of the Fund for Animals, said that in the process of killing geese, the waterfowl are typically rounded up while they're molting - and unable to fly - and loaded into trucks in batches of 15 to 20. Some birds are killed in slaughterhouses, while others are killed in the trucks by pumping carbon dioxide or another gas inside, she said.

"There are panicked birds flapping their wings, and the gas is not evenly distributed. It is very inhumane," Simon said. "

"We think the future for this particular issue is to do away with this mass killing ... and come in with community-based solutions that give people a positive feeling about how the problem is being solved."

Nonlethal alternatives include the use of chemical repellants and dogs in certain areas, or changing habitats to make them less inviting to geese.

Wildlife groups also promote a process known as "addling," which involves coating eggs in the nest with oil to prevent hatching or replacing them with fakes.

Throckmorton said his agency supports nonlethal methods to control the goose population, but added that they're not always efficient enough.

"It's very hard to addle 100 percent of the eggs 100 percent of the time, and even then, it only reduces reproductive success of resident Canada geese," Throckmorton said.

"Even if it was possible to addle 100 percent of the eggs 100 percent of the time, since resident Canada geese are relatively long-lived, it will take a long time to see a population decrease. Lethal take or culling the herd is sometimes necessary."

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