Living with Canada Geese in the 21st Century

By Sue Russell

As reported by WNBC News last week, Union County officials truncated the planned gassing of 2,700 Canada Geese in the face of strong public disapproval. USDA workers were shown throwing terrified birds into portable gas chambers. That didn’t stop Colts Neck, which gassed hundreds of geese in secret, unbeknownst to its own residents, within the next few days. Once considering gassing, Avon-by-the-Sea officials are now inquiring about non-lethal programs..

Carbon Dioxide causes breathing so rapid it becomes unbearable. The chambers are outlawed in New Jersey.

Non-lethal proves effective; killing does not

The proved success of integrated non-lethal management like that pioneered by GeesePeace, a Washington, D.C.-based organization, renders kill programs ineffective, inhumane and counterproductive. Canada geese can re-populate elimination areas within a matter of weeks. Killing leads to an endless cycle of more killing, more controversy and more community division. The GeesePeace program works nationwide. It brings communities together. It is cost effective.

Last year, Senator Charles E. Schumer sponsored a highly successful GeesePeace pilot project in Nassau County. “Thanks to Senator Schumer’s efforts, the assistance of GeesePeace and the diligence of our [staff] , we have enjoyed spectacular success in humanely convincing the Canada geese to leave Eisenhower Park,” said Doreen Banks, commissioner of Recreation, Parks and Support for Nassau County. Commissioner Banks wants the program countywide. Senator Schumer wants it throughout Long Island.

GeesePeace, formed by former USDA staffer David Feld, first explains non-lethal methodology, goose behavior and biology to affected parties: municipalities, park and recreation or school officials, then encourages their participation and trains responsible personnel. GeesePeace prefers a regional approach, getting many affected areas working together. The essence of the program is redirection identifying areas, where, by agreement, the birds will be tolerated, drawing geese away from areas where they are not wanted, modifying habitat so they won’t return. If needed, egg addling is employed. The program still works.

The gas-chamber killing machine on the back of a truck in Seattle, WA.  Photo courtesy of

“We had to gas. We’ve tried non-lethal and nothing worked.”

To qualify for a kill permit, applicants must first show that they have tried non-lethal means. For some townships bent upon killing as an anticipated final solution, the try is often pro forma, or simply incompetent. Colts Neck received an offer of assistance last year and never responded. Even when well-intentioned, non-lethal techniques are often used improperly, at the wrong time of year, or in the wrong combination. Others are victims of a sprouting cottage industry of suburban wildlife “experts” — many self-declared, off-duty officials, part-time hunters; some more qualified than others. I’ve personally witnessed exclusion wires (used to keep geese away from a pond) installed during the molt, when geese can’t fly. The birds were forced to resort to feeding in the very neighborhood that wanted them gone. Complaints skyrocketed. [Editor’s Note: Exclusion fences must be installed prior to the nesting season (about mid-March) while the geese are capable of finding another nest location.]

Who promotes lethal programs?

USDA’s Wildlife Services (formerly Animal Damage Control, widely known for burning and gassing coyote pups out West, hence the name change), has re-tooled for suburban markets by ordering portable carbon dioxide chambers and specially outfitted trucks. Wildlife Services describes itself — and markets its services — as a “business.” Employees are paid though kill contracts like the $20,000 agreement in Union County. In western states, workers are paid by the sale of pelts from animals they trap. USDA in effect advertises the service and agitates for kills by describing the birds as a “health-threat.” All in-house, all very effective. Colts Neck officials admit to “enrolling in the program offered” by USDA. New Jersey’s USDA Pittstown office is particularly, even aggressively, pro-kill. New York’s actually agreed to the Long Island program.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service , two agencies dependent on the shrinking hunting subculture and funded by gun taxes, are also opposed to non-lethal approaches. New Jersey’s Division of Fish and Wildlife is further funded by hunters’ license fees. “Many wildlife professionals,” wrote a New Jersey hunting columnist in 2002, “have expressed concerns that [non-lethal ] techniques are being publicized by animal rights groups to eventually replace sport hunting,”

In the mid-1950s, USFWS re-introduced hand-reared Canada geese at Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge. Pinioned adults were used as live decoys to lure migratory geese for hunting. Artificial nests encouraged breeding. Due to these and other programs, “substantial increase in usage of the refuge areas by flight geese occurred.” The birds showed no migratory behavior and were the progenitors of today’s so-called resident goose population. Last week, over 500 Canada geese were rounded-up and gassed at the Brigantine refuge. Migratory Canada geese, black ducks and other waterfowl can barely sustain sport hunting pressure. Wildlife agencies maintain what are called “waterfowl production areas” to meet hunter demand. Both so-called _resident” and migratory Canada geese inhabit these areas. In most production areas, indeed in most national wildlife refuges, fox, raccoon and other predators are routinely trapped. According to New York’s Wildlife Resources Cooperative Extension, geese genetically inclined to travel greater distances south may have been steadily hunted out of the population.

Cruel treatment of a goose before being killed.  Photo courtesy of

Geese and public health

Dr. Timothy Ford of the Harvard School of Public Health (author, Microbiological Safety of Drinking Water, United States and Global Perspective) and New Jersey’s Department of Health note that geese pose no significant health risk to humans. The respected Ford is adamant: “In my mind, there is no possibility that the Canada goose will ever be a major route of infection. To suggest otherwise is utterly ludicrous, and you can quote me.” The Department of Health points out that geese are often mistakenly blamed for beach closings. Toddlers (giardia is spread most often in the day care setting,) and households pets pose a much greater health threat than Canada geese.

Needed: Leadership, and a statewide GeesePeace training program in New Jersey

Sen. Schumer is ushering management into the 21st century. It is humane. It works. Everyone wins. New Jersey needs a statewide GeesePeace training program. Our elected officials should make that so. New Jersey needs a Charles Schumer.

Sue Russell

Center for Animal Protection
Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese
P.O. Box 161
Bradley Beach, NJ 07720
732.842.7166  (in progress)


Contact Us

Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting / C.A.S.H.
P.O. Box 562
New Paltz, NY 12561