Should Cedar Rapids kill geese?
Canada geese are displacing deer as Cedar Rapids’ most controversial animal. Opinions vary on whether too many of the husky birds enjoy Corridor residency.
In the early 1980s, an organization called the Cedar Rapids Goose Flock formed to restore a population of the largest of 11 subspecies of the bird. Once thought extinct, a remnant population had been discovered. In 1983, volunteers released 24 of them in the city, followed by 26 in 1984 and 95 in 1985. The amazing fecundity of the bird took hold and the hundreds of geese in their area trace their ancestry to the 145 released three decades ago.
Geese are fascinating animals. Intelligent and mobile, they often mate for life and enjoy a long life span. Diligent parents, they produce many goslings each spring. Geese find all life’s needs inside city limits and are bothered by few predators. It’s no wonder they’ve emerged from the brink of extinction to abundance.
Over millions of years nature developed delicate balances between species and the predators and diseases that keep populations within balance of the resources that sustain them. Often, people upset the apple cart. Urban America excludes the coyotes, wolves, and other large carnivores that once trimmed flocks. Geese prosper in cities because they are safe and bountiful places to live.
Unlike urban deer, with which their overpopulation often is compared, geese rarely damage gardens or landscape plants on private property and infrequently collide with cars. People mostly object to copious droppings on lawns and walkways near water. The term, “loose as a goose” is appropriate. Most of this mess is confined to public parkland, and it’s understandable that people complain.
Whether there are too many geese or not depends on perspective. But as the population of any wild animal increases, a tipping point often occurs when most people agree they are too abundant and call for action. This puts city officials in a bind. Some citizens stridently oppose control. All should think ahead a few years and imagine a population three or four times higher than today’s creating triple the mess.
Past nonlethal control methods failed, including spraying flocks with grape juice extract and chasing them with a mechanical dog. Geese quickly learned that these posed no threat. Rounding geese up during the short molt when they are unable to fly and releasing them elsewhere has dubious benefit. Geese are capable fliers, possessed with outstanding navigation ability. No wonder many return to the city where life is less perilous than in a distant public hunting area.
Goose numbers can be controlled by destroying their eggs or killing birds, but doing either is fraught with problems. For one thing, the animals are regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Their cooperation is essential but not always easy to obtain.
Legal hunting potentially can reduce the population, especially if portions of the city are opened to the activity. However, geese quickly learn where life is dangerous and will evacuate to no-hunting areas after a few collide with a charge of shot. Also, hunter numbers are shrinking. In 1972, 70,000 Iowa hunters bought waterfowl stamps. By 2012, it had declined to only 30,000. There probably won’t be enough hunters in the right places to have much of an effect.
An option is to destroy eggs or coat them with oil to kill the embryo. It works but takes people willing to locate nests, defy angry goose parents and destroy the eggs. It also must be sanctioned by wildlife authorities.
Are geese too numerous in Cedar Rapids? I delight in their wondrous sounds and the sight of these magnificent birds flying over downtown. Recovery from near extinction is a tribute to their resiliency and the hard work of people, many of whom are hunters, to restore populations. However, I also often walk the trail around Cedar Lake where dodging goose poop is becoming increasingly challenging.
If left alone, the number of geese could double or quadruple in the next few years. Political pressure to reduce their population will grow. Delaying action will create the need to kill more birds in a future expanded population. Destroying eggs seems the most humane way to trim numbers and might be sufficient to keep the urban flock at a tolerable level. If this isn’t effective enough, and geese are killed, I hope the meat is used to feed hungry people.
• Rich Patterson is the co-owner of Winding Pathways. More information: www.windingpathways.com