FWS resident Canada goose plan applauded by farmers,


Mar 11, 2001
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Mar. 05, 2002    

U.S. wants to thin the Canada goose hordes.

By Matthew P. Blanchard, Philadelphia Inquirer Suburban Staff

Farmers and public water officials in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, beleaguered by exploding populations of Canada geese, hailed new rules proposed yesterday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would allow the killing of hundreds of thousands of the birds, now protected by a 1916 treaty.

Targeted are up to one-third of the 3.5 million so-called resident Canada geese that hang out year-round in the lower 48 states, devouring crops and crowding golf courses and lawns while depositing tons of excrement.

The wildlife agency hopes to cut flocks of resident Canada geese by 1.16 million birds in coming years by giving states the authority to decide when and where to allow such lethal methods as nest and egg destruction, trapping, and goose-slaughter roundups.

"It's about time," said farmer Bill Garges of Buckingham, Bucks County, who said he had lost 50 percent of his wheat crop from fields turned black with the voracious birds. "They've been robbing us farmers for years."

Goose-control expeditions have long required a federal permit, a permit fee, and weeks of waiting. With states in control, backers say, goose hunters could wind up with longer hunting seasons and higher bag limits.

The announcement set off loud protests by animal-rights groups and even some state officials, who see the move as a costly federal dumping of paperwork and responsibility on the states.

Truly migratory populations would still be protected, said John Andrew, chief of the wildlife agency's Division of Migratory Bird Management in Washington.

"There would be less paperwork and less federal control," Andrew said.

And, of course, fewer geese.

"It's about time," said Preston Luitweiler of Philadelphia Suburban Water Co., which operates reservoirs throughout the region that play host to 17,000 geese some nights. "These birds are defecating right into the water."

In the city, Fairmount Park Commission officials agree.

"When the picnic tables are surrounded by a very large amount of goose droppings, it's difficult to get people excited about having a picnic," said Barry Bessler, chief of staff for the commission.

Canada geese were once seen as a fragile species. State and federal biologists even resorted to importing thousands of mating pairs of geese from the Midwest in the 1960s to ensure their survival throughout the mid-Atlantic states. The birds thrived, perhaps too well, under the cover of the 1916 Migratory Bird Treaty and the federal wildlife agency.

Some animal-rights groups sense a coming "bloodbath" if resident geese lose the full protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty, which sets specific limits on hunting seasons and bag limits of as few as one or two geese per hunter.

"There'll be a completely unjustified and needless slaughter on a scale that's unethical. Basically, a bloodbath," said Greg Figelson, director of the New York-based Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese.

Figelson's group promotes the use of such nonlethal methods as harassment with dogs, lasers or firecrackers or replanting landscaped lawns with taller, denser bushes that geese do not like. Such methods are allowable regardless of federal regulations.

And besides, Figelson said, state agencies don't have the money or staff to take over the administration of Canada goose populations.

"State oversight is going to mean no oversight," he said.

Ted Nichols, waterfowl biologist with the New Jersey State Division of Fish and Wildlife, said he was happy that the states would have greater leeway, but he was daunted by the added cost of the responsibility.

"That's like the service taking the six- or seven-digit cost of administering this program and handing it over to the states, saying, 'Here, you deal with it now,' " he said. "Unless there's compensation from the federal government, that's no way to solve a problem."

New Jersey and Pennsylvania game officials said yesterday it was too soon to gauge what their agencies would do with the increased freedom, should they get it.

The proposed regulations were released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a draft environmental-impact statement. Several years in the making, the report details six options, from doing nothing to expanding hunting opportunities. The "state empowerment" option, one of the more severe, is the one endorsed by the agency.

A 90-day public comment period will continue until May 30, with public meetings to be held in 11 towns across the country, including Parsippany, N.J., near New Brunswick. No date has been set for that meeting.

There was a time when Canada geese were more widely beloved.

In the 1970s, Mayor Frank L. Rizzo kept a few hundred dollars in his budget to feed the Canada geese in Fairmount Park.

Now, federal officials say the mid-Atlantic states are swarming with resident geese, which migrate only short distances, if at all. Pennsylvania has about 250,000; in Bucks County alone, there were 60,600 counted in 2000, up from 13,100 in 1980. New Jersey, with 85,000, claims the highest density of geese in the United States: 12 geese per square kilometer.

They are all part of the estimated 1.1 million resident geese living in the 17 states of the Atlantic flyway - a population that grew at an average rate of 12 percent a year during the 1990s, federal officials say.

If nothing is done, the federal government estimates the Atlantic flyway goose population will top 1.6 million by 2012. By adopting the new rules, the agency instead hopes to see the flyway population drop to 650,000.

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