July 17, 2007

Canada Goose Presence Irks Wis. Locals

WAUSAU, Wis. -- Wisconsin's dramatically increased Canada goose flock is laying problems, not the fabled golden eggs. The majestic birds are nuisances - at golf courses, parks and other places near water and lush with grass - because of the mess they leave behind, not to mention their sometimes aggressive behavior.

"In some places, yes, people are getting angry," said Kent Van Horn, a waterfowl expert with the state Department of Natural Resources. "The level of conflict is growing every year, in part because the Canada goose population is growing and expanding across the state."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Service has euthanized 1,400 nuisance geese this summer, more than double the number of a few years ago, said Dan Hirchert, a wildlife biologist who coordinates the goose management program in Wisconsin.

"That is the last solution," he said. "As we are removing birds, people come up and thank us."

The agency also has teamed with the DNR on a new two-page brochure outlining the conflicts and offering solutions that can be used.

Gary Tanko, superintendent at SentryWorld Golf Course in Stevens Point, uses a single word to describe the problem with geese at his 18-hole course - "Terrible."

"It gets worse every year. We have tried everything from the cannons from the DNR to harass them to trying to turn sprinklers on them, whatever we can do. But they keep coming back," he said.

Tanko estimates 50 to 100 geese - "a herd of them" - routinely waddle about the course, including on the greens.

In 1986, the DNR estimated Wisconsin had 11,130 Canada geese at breeding age. That population swelled to 125,200 last spring, Van Horn said.

Given the hatch of new birds, the DNR figures at least 275,000 geese call Wisconsin home this summer, mostly in an area east of a line that stretches from south of Madison to Green Bay - the state's most densely populated region of people.

"They are using up as much habitat as they can find and prospering," Hirchert said.

Wisconsin has two different populations of Canada geese, which are federally protected, Van Horn said. One group nests in northern Ontario, Canada, and migrates to Wisconsin for the fall and winter. The resident giant Canada geese nest and raise young in Wisconsin. They become the nuisance, he said.

"When we make a golf course with water hazards and mowed grass everywhere, it is a goose heaven," Van Horn said.

Goose poop isn't the only problem. There's Canada goose aggression, too. The geese get so used to a particular site that they just don't want the people around anymore, Van Horn said.

A giant Canada male can weigh up to 15 pounds, have a wing span of nearly six feet and drop two pounds of feces a day.

Carol Bannerman, a USDA Wildlife Service spokeswoman in Maryland responsible for 30 states, including Wisconsin, said many states, particularly on the East Coast, have experienced growth in resident geese.

Goose populations have tripled in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland in recent years, she said.

Hirchert said his office has received more than 200 complaints already this year regarding the Wisconsin geese and is working with 22 communities to manage nuisance birds. In 1999, two or three communities needed help, he said.

Hundreds of golf courses in the state deal with geese droppings, he said. One course in northeast Wisconsin estimates damage from the birds at more than $10,000 a year, he said.

Golfers have "lots of different names for geese," Hirchert said, laughing.

Andrea Kirk, migratory birds permits chief for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minneapolis, said since 2000, 17,463 Canada geese have been euthanized in Wisconsin, an average of about 2,500 each year. In addition, an average of nearly 500 nests have been destroyed each year, eliminating an average of 2,200 eggs with them, she said.

The state conducts a special early September goose hunt, targeting the resident geese as a way to control the population. During last fall's season, hunters killed 20,034 geese, or nearly 25 times more than the 842 geese shot in 1990.

Through all of last season's waterfowl hunt, hunters killed 62,346 Canada geese, a record number. The DNR estimates that half of the total harvest was resident geese.

But hunting won't solve all the problems of geese creeping into areas where people like to play, Van Horn said.

Those areas have options for managing the problem geese, including:

_Modifying habitat so geese don't find it so attractive.

_Building fences.

_Using chemical repellants on grassy areas.

_Obtaining the needed government permits to destroy a nest of eggs.

At SentryWorld, Tanko said he has put a boat in the waters that surround his course and tried to chase the geese. It didn't work.

And it's impractical to spray repellants on the grass so the geese won't eat it, Tanko said. "You can get a dog that chases them all the time. That's about it. We have a few fox around here. Hopefully, they will take care of some of them."


On the Net:

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: http://www.dnr.state.wi.us