The First Step Toward Resolving Conflict

The First Step Toward Resolving Conflict



By Ann Muller

Okay, I concede that one point to the wildlife management agencies. But that’s it! No, Canada geese are not “nuisances”; no, they do not cause disease in humans; no they don’t jump on people’s backs and bite them on the neck.

Headlines have just about read:





John or Jane Q. Public, that great expert on every subject, has been quoted ad nauseam. I’m beginning to suspect that J.Q.P. is just fronting for public interest groups, if you know what I mean. If you want a lie repeated, and you yourself don’t want to look like a jerk, just have J.Q.P. make the statements for you in press releases or Letters to the Editor.

In addition, have your public relations person or “special correspondent” put out reports to terrify the public. We all know reporters don’t bother to research what you’re saying. Anyway, if the press release comes from the government, it’s tantamount to being the gospel. You know the syndrome: They said it, we print it and that settles it!

Let’s look at each gem on its own merits:


Lawns with ponds are veritable goose salad bars. With their freshly mown grass down to the water’s edge, they are Goose Nirvanae. Recommended as a non-lethal method for dissuading geese from this situation is low netting surrounding the water’s edge. It keeps the birds from easy access to the water if they’re on the grass, or to the grass if they’re in the water. Geese, though not quite as lazy as we, don’t enjoy flying from the grass to the water and back again. Barriers that force the geese into flight act to deter them from the area.* There are numerous eyewitness accounts of this successful technique. One witness is no less than president of a branch of the Audubon society who said that she had a view of two bodies of water from a hilltop in Pennsylvania, one had netting around it, and the other had none. Not surprisingly, the one with netting had no geese, the other had geese. (I don’t mean to make geese sound like a disease but you get the point.)


Geese think that fairways with ponds are great places, too. Unfortunately for them and for humans, most golf courses are routinely sprayed with 13 different pesticides, many of which are toxic to humans and wildlife. That, however, doesn’t bother health departments. Instead, what bothers them is the green lumpy stuff. The Rockland County Commissioner of Health said Canada goose droppings cause schistosomiasis, psittacosis, and salmonellosis, and besides, they just look sinister. Pesticides? Carcinogens? Why you can’t even see them. Recommended for this situation is methyl anthranilate (M-A), which is grape flavoring. Geese detest the taste of grass when it’s sprayed with M-A, and it has worked wonders to dissuade geese wherever it has been tested. Believe it or not, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which approves toxic substances daily for all sorts of purposes, has been investigating the “possible harmful effects of grape flavoring” as a “pesticide” for years now. The EPA is just being cautious, you know, although per the Food and Drug Administration, M-A is safe enough for your grape soda, concord wine and bubblegum.


Thanks to the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, we were able to investigate those claims. Not surprisingly, we found that our Commissioner of Public Health was spreading unfound rumors. Letters poured in from M.D.’s (several with Masters of Public Health degrees, which our Commissioner of Health does not have), D.V.M.’s and nurses countering the Commissioner’s report. The following should allay your fears about Canada goose poop causing those diseases.

Salmonellosis, as many know, is caused by raw chicken, eggs and dairy products. Salmonellosis is transmitted by oral contact with fecal matter. Unless you are scooping up goose feces and making sandwiches out of it, you don’t have to worry. You should however, be extremely careful about bringing uncooked chicken into the house. All 13 treated cases of salmonellosis in our county for two years running were attributable to food poisoning. Solution: stay away from eating chicken, eggs, and even cheese and you’ll be okay.

Psittacosis is a respiratory condition that is extremely rare. It is gotten by breathing fecal matter in an unventilated environment for two hours straight. Employees of factory farms or pet stores are at risk, but there is no way that anyone can get psittacosis in a public park setting. Solution: don’t sniff bird doo for prolonged periods.

Schistosomiasis cannot be contracted in this country. The vector is a snail that does not exist here. The only occurrences of it are in people who come from countries where it is endemic. The vector for the mild, short-lived skin rash that people refer to here as schistosomiasis is also a snail. Solution: don’t eat imported snails, or domestic ones just to be sure.


I called a chemist at our water company as a concerned citizen to see what she thought about the reports of Canada geese polluting reservoirs. The statement met with gales of laughter. Most coliform bacteria in reservoirs are from leaching septic tanks, but the bacteria are normally so diluted that swallowing some, as we do in lakes, is harmless. Furthermore, before reaching your home, water is put through a series of screen filters and ozone gases at the treatment plant. For good measure chlorine is dumped into the supply (ugh!) Solution: drink directly from your tap and not the reservoir. Better yet, find a mountain spring.

Bring on the Goose Attacks!

Well with those health arguments knocked out, bring in old faithful J.Q.P. to continue to rant and rave about disease regardless of assurances from medical professionals to the contrary. What does J.Q.P. care about fact? And, if that doesn’t work, bring on the Goose Attacks. Did you know that Canada geese attack people in their homes and on their way to church? A town supervisor reported that he was followed into church by a gaggle of honking Canada Geese. How indecorous! Question: Why is it that the only people who are “attacked” are those who want to increase the bag limit for geese or gas them? I ask, is it designing people or wily geese? Why one poor woman was even held up at beakpoint as she was getting out of her very own car in her very own driveway! It’s an outrage that these geese are so oafish! Does that scare you sufficiently? No? You think it’s funny? Well here’s the new report (two so far): Canada geese fly onto people’s backs and bite them on the neck, while loudly honking and flapping their wings. Scared now? Soon we’ll hear reports about Canada geese that wear Freddy Krueger toenails. I don’t mean to take the concerns of people lightly. I’m sure they feel they have valid complaints, but it is important to put it into perspective. They are in the minority, their complaints are questionable, and any solution to a real or perceived “problem” can be handled non-lethally.

“Resident Canada Geese”

Just what are “resident Canada geese” anyway? State game agencies would like you to believe they are “undesirables” who have permanently moved next door with green cards. They would like you to believe that these aliens might get voting status soon if they aren’t stopped.

They want you to think that resident geese attach themselves with crazy glue to lawns. They want you to think that the gripers are in the majority and have realistic fears. If you’re not among them, they want you to think you stand alone and there must be something wrong with you.

What’s interesting is that the game agencies’ definition of a “resident” Canada goose is not what you think. It does not refer to the goose in your park, but to the one which nests anywhere south of the 47th parallel or about mid-Quebec and mid-Ontario! So even geese migrating from Canada, if they nest south of the 47th parallel, are not considered migratory but resident! The “resident” geese in your backyard actually fly, regardless of what game agencies want you to think. They even cross state and national borders.

“Migrant Geese”

The “migratory” population (the population that nests above the 47th parallel) is shortstopping, which means they are just not doing a “full migration” to the southern states. Of course, we don’t know what percentage ever did a full migration, or for that matter why they should (except so that southern state game agencies can sell licenses to shoot them). The “migrant” population has also sharply declined over the past few years. The latter has forced lower bag limits and shortened seasons. Wildlife management agencies are quick to point out that the population is crashing because of “terrible weather conditions.” They never ever mention hunting as a cause, but what do you want? Consider the source. [A recent report, not yet published, from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), does, for the first time, put the blame for the crash in part on the impact of hunting.]

“Nuisance Resident Canada Geese”

To get those bag limits up, managers have to do several things. They have to make a case for the fact that “residents” are not “migrants,” so shooting them will not affect a declining subspecies. They also have to figure out a way of gaining access for hunters to the urban and suburban sites at which the “residents” “reside.” To do that, they need to give the appearance of a problem, and gain some public support and approval for reducing the population of what are now termed “nuisance resident Canada geese.” (The list of adjectives is growing.)

To make a case for residents being a true subspecies, state game agencies tell you that “residents” lay more eggs than “migrants.” In a New York Times article, designed to frighten the public into demanding a reduction of the “nuisance resident” Canada goose population, a federal wildlife manager was quoted as saying that “resident geese” have larger clutches than “migrants.” He went on to say that a clutch from a resident goose consists of 8-10 eggs and suggested multiplying that out each year to see how quickly the population would explode. Later in a phone conversation, the agent admitted that a clutch from a “migratory” goose contained 5.1 eggs while a “resident” clutch contained 5.2 eggs. My question is: Has anyone besides George ever seen a .1 or .2 egg? Please let us know if you have, we don’t exactly trust him.

In a publication entitled Branta Canadensis (Canada Goose) put out by the Department of Natural Resources, it is reported that 30% of all clutches are unsuccessful. What constitutes success is the hatching of at least one egg. Many first time goose-moms don’t stay on the nests long enough for the eggs to be viable. Let’s not forget about predation of eggs and goslings by raccoons, foxes, dogs, cats and snapping turtles. The moral of the story is that you cannot look at a nest, smack your palm against your forehead, and shriek “Oh my god, they’re multiplying like crazy!” Only a fraction actually survives to adult hood. Further, geese don’t become sexually mature for three years, and first time clutches are usually unsuccessful. There are natural checks on the population all along the way. We’re not even including human interference, which is massive. You’re asking why you sometimes see adults with 15 to 20 goslings? Geese that have nested near each other join together in crèches to care for their young and the young of other adults that may have been killed. They also care for the young of other species of waterfowl. Yes, indeed. Canada geese are magnanimous.

Are “Residents” a Subspecies?

As we said, game managers desperately want to find biological differences between the “migrants” and “residents.” If they can make a good case for there being true differences, they may be able to make unilateral decisions for the fate of “resident” geese. Remember, all migratory birds are protected by The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, an international treaty which prohibits hunting them between March 10th and September 1st. In addition, states do not have total jurisdiction over migratory animals as they do over non-migratory ones, such as deer.

In the case of Canada geese, before states can set bag limits and seasons for hunting them, they have to clear everything with two countries’ wildlife agencies: the USFWS and the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), and the flyway of which the state is a member. There are four flyways in the lower 48. There is even inter-flyway “cooperation.” It’s a royal pain for managers, as you can imagine. Remember, each sate wants to offer maximum hunting opportunity to its hunters to keep that salary coming in. They contend with each other for hunting sales and don’t want other states shooting the birds before they fly to their state. Keep in mind how Pittman-Robertson money works. The more hunting licenses a state sells (population considered) in relation to other states, the more money it gets from the Feds. No targets, no hunters, no licenses bought, no excise tax from weapons!

Hunting the Unhuntable

How do they resolve this sticky interstate contention for the same “resource”? I suspect that their thinking runs along these lines: Let each state grow its “resident geese” to evolve into “nuisance resident geese” in the media shortly before hunting season. This way, states don’t have to worry about the crashing “migratory” population when they determine bag limits and season lengths. They don’t have to worry about short stopping before the birds get to their state; and they won’t get flak from other states and the Feds for shooting too many migrant geese. Now the problem is: at what point does a goose that looks and acts like a migrant goose stop being legally protected as a migrant goose? At the point that they can show that “residents” are truly a subspecies. That’s going to be a long drawn out process of fudged research, so for starters, just say that most “migratory” Canada geese don’t arrive here until late September. That allows them to have a “special hunt” on “residents only” somewhere between September 2nd and September 20th before too many of the “migrants” arrive, and before he risk of shooting more than 20% of them increases (The USFWS won’t let states shoot more than 20% of the migrants). A little extra killing in September should make hunters happy and make up for those reduced bag limits during the regular season. If the Public campaign has worked well, the “special season” should make the “public” and politicians happy too. Another messy problem to overcome is that the birds offered to the hunters to kill are in people’s backyards, parks, and golf courses. Again, if the media have cooperated, and have drummed up enough public antipathy, and made it appear that the “public” is calling for a reduction, hunters may be able to gain access to heretofore unhuntable areas. What helps is that the 500′ limit from a person, dwelling or livestock when discharging a firearm doesn’t apply when shooting waterfowl over a body of water.** Hunters now don’t have to worry about crowded areas, because shooting Canada geese can be done with regular folks right there. Golfers can just continue playing golf, picnickers can just go on eating their sandwiches, and kids can go on swimming in lakes or pools. In fact, dodging steel shot will give them more exercise and add pizzazz to those other forms of recreation.

Meanwhile, they’ll keep up their long-term research to find biological differences between residents and migrants. Anything promising yet? Well after megabucks of testing, they’ve found that residents are heavier. You’d be too, of course, if you weren’t flying as much, and you were eating your salad bar everyday with croutons. Are they a different subspecies? Are Laurel and Hardy different subspecies?

“Nature Out of Control?”

In the publication Branta Canadensis it says, “the upsurge in numbers of geese that has occurred since [the late 40’s] is believed to be related to: (1) an increase in the numbers of state and federal refuge areas situated along migration corridors and on wintering areas; (2) an increase in the available food supply for migrating and wintering geese resulting from more intensive agricultural practices [Editor’s Note: Farmers are encouraged to enter into cooperative agreements with state game agencies.]…The reasons behind the northerly shift of wintering geese…appears related to the increase in food availability and refuge areas in more northerly areas [and] hunter harvest. Birds migrating farther south are subject to greater hunting pressure and are experiencing lower survival rates…[O]ver the years, those birds genetically inclined to travel greater distances south have been removed from the population…[T]here is [also] reason to suspect that the increase in the numbers of state-reared resident goose flocks may influence the migration patterns of more northerly nesting geese…and may act to decoy early migrants and delay their movement southward.”

You’re no doubt thinking by now, “Hey, wait a minute, I thought wildlife managers were trying to keep the resident Canada goose population down.” Well, you’re just confused! Wildlife management agencies want a growing population of “resident” geese so they can help you resolve your “nuisance” goose population problem with “long-term management,” which means hunting. New York alone has about 70 management areas for growing target birds and over three million acres are managed for waterfowl production in the Atlantic Flyway alone. Forests are clear-cut, burnt and flooded to expand or create wetlands. Predators of eggs or youngsters are destroyed. A pet dog or cat that wanders into one of these management areas can be shot on sight.

Does it look to you like game managers are turning migrants into residents? “Huh?” you say. “But what about the public and all the complaints about all the nuisance birds?” I’m glad you asked. Who cares about the public? Right now, the public doesn’t do much for game agencies, in spite of the fact that the general public pays in part for this.*** Look, just tell that pesky public that it is “nature out of control,” and never ever let them find out that it’s really wildlife management out of control. When they find out that states and the USFWS manage millions of acres of goose production areas, tell them that birds don’t leave those areas and are hot inside only, so it’s none of their business. If they point out that geese fly, tell them they’re hallucinating. But unbeknownst to them, I’ve had proof for a year that “resident” geese fly. Here it is:

In an investigation of 1993 depredation permits in NYS, we found one from ALCOA. ALCOA has a facility near a wildlife management area in upstate New York and they were concerned because their toxic effluent is pumped into ponds from which the birds drink when they escape the management areas after hunting begins. ALCOA applied for a depredation permit to harass the geese from the property. (Just as an aside, what is a hazardous dump site doing near a wildlife management area?) – They were given a depredation permit, obviously not to save the birds from death by aluminum, but to save them for death by steel. Game agencies would rather that bullets get the geese before the aluminum does. Just think, if bullets don’t get them, they lose money. No targets, no kills, unhappy hunters, less bullets bought, less excise tax, less hunting, perhaps no duck stamp sales for the following year, and worse yet, maybe no hunting license sales.

I have a question: Does it sound to you as though wildlife managers are great conservationists? Does it sound as though government wildlife management agencies are fulfilling their mandate to protect wildlife for all citizens? I maintain that it is indeed hunting and management for hunting that has caused an urban and suburban Canada goose population. Managers have done that at the expense of the environment, ecology, the target species, the target individuals, the economy and citizens’ rights. AND THEY’RE NOT FINISHED! Their purpose is to serve a tiny special interest group whose direct purchases of licenses, and firearms and ammunition pay the salaries of wildlife managers so they can continue programs to increase hunting opportunity. Tell me again that hunting and management for hunting are a “non-issue”; have no environmental, ecological or human rights impact! I can’t hear you.

Editor’s Notes:

* If we don’t come up with non-lethal ways to dissuade geese, lethal methods will be used. My gut feeling is the same as yours: “Just leave the geese alone will ya and get rid of the gripers instead,” but politicians don’t go for that.

** True for NYS. Check your state for that exception.

*** There is a bill introduced at the time of this writing in NYS that would dedicate Conservation funds exclusively to direct costs of hunting, fishing and trapping programs. That means that the 95% non-hunting public will be paying even more for game managers’ overhead. The bill would even exclude the endangered species program from partaking of Conservation Funds! Yet all fines received would go to the Conservation Fund, even though most of the fines received are from hunters who were caught killing endangered and threatened species!

Part Two will appear in our Fall issue, continuing to unravel the convoluted plot to provide “sportsmen and women” (?) with millions of waterfowl to “harvest” which means “blast to hell” by the year 2000.

Anne Muller is the president of C.A.S.H. and a founding member of the Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese; she has been investigating the Canada goose issue since January 1993.


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