Under an Interlocal Agreement for Waterfowl (Canada Goose) Management, Wildlife Services has been killing geese in the Puget Sound area for the last 13 years. Lethal control is the primary option utilized under the current Interlocal Agreement whose members include: Bellevue, Kent, Kirkland, Mountlake Terrace, Port of Seattle – Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Renton, Seattle Parks and Recreation, SeaTac, Tacoma Metro Parks, Tukwila, Woodinville, and the University of Washington.
How did Canada Geese become urbanized in the Puget Sound Region?
Canada Geese did not originally nest in the Puget Sound area. In the mid-1900’s, Canada Geese populations were in serious decline because of hunting, habitat destruction and the uncontrolled harvesting of eggs throughout the country.
On April 11, 1968, Operation Mother Goose began in order to rebuild populations of Canada Geese in Washington for hunting purposes. In Eastern Washington after the John Day Dam was built and before the surrounding area was flooded, 1200 goose eggs were removed. The goslings were released around Washington as well as other states. Fifty of the young geese were released in the Puget Sound area. The geese stayed and flourished because there were no adult birds to teach them to migrate and habitat conditions were favorable. So in essence, we created the situation of overpopulation of geese in our urban areas. And, as the population grew, so did the conflicts, which has now resulted in many cities resorting to lethal control. It is time to stop the killing of geese and use our intelligence to deal with these conflicts in a humane manner.
Many of us enjoy watching wildlife including Canada Geese and other waterfowl. Canada Geese have many of the characteristics that we aspire to in ourselves and admire in others. They are highly intelligent, loyal, mate for life, and are excellent parents. If one of a mated pair becomes sick or injured, the other will stay by his or her side until the other recovers or dies. It is almost as if they take a wedding vow, just like us, “Till death do us part.” They have an average lifespan of 10 to 25 years and can live into their 30s in the wild.
What are the conflicts with geese?
In general, there are five main concerns about geese. These are related to overpopulation, health concerns, messiness, aggression, and airplane safety.
In response to overpopulation, various humane measures are available including birth control through the use of egg addling, Ovocontrol-G, and sterilization.
Also, simple landscape modifications can discourage geese from nesting in our parks. The lack of nesting sites can ultimately lead to a reduced population.
Health concerns are often cited in order to justify the killing of geese. However, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) web site, “Canada geese are not considered to be a significant source of any infectious disease transmittable to humans or domestic animals.”
Also, bacterial levels of goose poop, unless they have been exposed to human waste, are generally less than those of humans or dog feces.
Geese in large numbers can be messy, but there are many ways to mitigate these problems including landscape modifications that will deter the geese. Large expanses of manicured lawns next to the water’s edge are a major enticement to geese and send out an invitation for an all you can eat buffet.
Landscape modifications along with a greater emphasis on park maintenance and clean up need to be implemented. There are many devices available to clean up beaches and grassy areas.
As far as geese displaying aggression, this type of behavior may be exhibited if people get too close to their nest or goslings, because geese are very protective parents. It is best to avoid approaching geese during breeding season and let them raise their young.
In addition, feeding geese should be discouraged as it also can lead to aggression.
There are also concerns about collisions with airplanes. As explained in the City Living Seattle column Among the Animals “Peace for Geese” by Christie Lagally:
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) maintains a Bird Strikes database. In 1998 and 1999 (at the height of the geese population), there were two strikes involving Canada geese each year at the local airports. By 2004 and 2005, after years of killing geese, the average number of Canada goose strikes was still two per year. One Canada goose bird strike occurred in 2013. These strikes caused minor or no damage to the aircraft and no human injury.
In a November 2013 National Geographic article titled Bloody Skies – The Fight to Reduce Deadly Bird-Plane Collisions, the New York City Bar Association is quoted as saying “There is growing agreement among aviation experts and biologists that killing geese and other birds has no long-term impact in reducing the risk of bird strikes.” The article also asks the question “why new technology, such as avian radar tracking, is not being used to prevent air strikes with birds.”
Other countries are using bird radar in conjunction with knowledge of bird flight and migration patterns to avoid air collisions. Sometimes all it takes is to notify the pilot so that flocks of birds can be avoided.
Our own SeaTac International Airport has made great strides in using humane measures to deter geese and other wildlife. For example they were one of the first to use Avian Radar, have relocated juvenile hawks under their Raptor Strike Avoidance Program, planted tall fescue grass to deter wildlife and removed things that attract geese and other wildlife. Now, if they would just remove themselves from the Interlocal Agreement to kill geese.
According to Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger “The most effective thing to prevent these collisions is not to allow anything anywhere near an airport that’s likely to be a bird attractant.” He also stated that “There’s always this constant tension between doing what’s easiest, what’s quickest, what’s least costly, versus taking the time, making the effort, to doing it right.”
How are cities dealing with conflicts with geese?
Humane measures are being used in some locations with varying degrees of success. However, there is an emphasis on using lethal control. The killing of geese is an approved option under the 2014 Interlocal Agreement for Waterfowl Management.
The members of this agreement include Bellevue, Kent, Kirkland, Mountlake Terrace, Port of Seattle – Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Renton, Seattle Parks and Recreation, SeaTac, Tacoma Metro Parks, Tukwila, Woodinville, and the University of Washington.
All members pay Wildlife Services to use lethal control of geese. Although a member may not be using lethal control in their parks, they are still funding the killing in other locations covered by the agreement. The 2014 Interlocal Agreement for Waterfowl Management states “Wildlife Services (WS) will receive funds from each participant member for the continuation of an egg addling program, lethal control, and evaluation during spring and summer 2014.”
For example, Seattle Parks and Recreation maintains that they stopped killing geese in their parks in 2004, as a part of a partnership with PAWS and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to test and implement humane alternatives over a three-year period. This was a step in the right direction, however, Seattle did not maintain funding for the humane alternatives. In addition, they have continued to be a member of the Interlocal Agreement and consequently pay to have geese killed outside of their parks.
Wildlife Services has been killing geese in the Puget Sound region for the last 13 years. They round up the geese during molting season when the adults cannot fly and the babies are too young to do so.
The geese are herded into holding pens. From there, Wildlife Services shoves multiple birds at a time into specially designed CO2 gas chambers in the back of their trucks. The birds of course panic and legs, wings, and necks are sometimes broken in the process.
Wildlife Services reports that gassing is humane and that the birds are “asleep within 30 to 60 seconds.” However, Canada Geese have a large lung capacity and are used to flying at high altitudes, so they can go without oxygen for long periods of time. Witnesses say that they can hear the geese thumping against the walls of the gas chambers and it can take several minutes before they die.
In addition, the gas chambers are only 22 inches in height. Adult Canada Geese range from an average of 21.7 to 42 inches in height, so that they cannot even stand upright in the gas chamber while struggling for their life.
Wildlife Services is now also shooting geese on Lake Washington, as well as other areas. This poses a potential threat to public safety.
In 2013, nearly 1200 geese were killed in just King County alone. In addition to killing geese, Wildlife Services addled 454 eggs throughout the region covered by the Interlocal Agreement. With an average of 6 eggs per nest, that only amounts to 75 nests. Clearly, egg addling is not a priority compared to killing.
Wildlife Services is a part of the United States Department of Agriculture. The primary function of Wildlife Services is to kill wildlife. In 2013, they killed over four million animals. They are funded by our federal tax dollars and also hire out to private and public enterprises to kill wildlife.
Thousands of geese have been killed in our urban areas for more than a decade and the slaughter continues.
Are there humane measures for reducing geese conflicts and populations?
Mitigating human and geese conflicts requires an integrated long-term humane plan where results are monitored and approaches added or modified as needed to achieve a long term solution. No one deterrent or population control method is the ultimate solution. But, when used in combination they can result in the desired outcome.
According to the Humane Society of the United States:
Rounding up and killing entire flocks of geese has become an all-too-common (and temporary) fix in many communities. Besides being inhumane, this also leaves room for a new flock to just move right in.
Geese shouldn’t get a death sentence for doing what comes naturally—especially when long-term, effective, and humane solutions exist.
Fortunately, many available humane techniques and devices can make urban locations less attractive to geese and control their populations. Many of which can easily be found on the internet. In general, these measures can be grouped into five main categories.
Discontinuance of feeding birds and other wildlife
Feeding geese, waterfowl and other wildlife encourages them to seek out the area where feeding is occurring and may actually make them aggressive towards people and companion animals.
Geese prefer large open lawn areas close to the water, such as what can be found in many of our recreational areas. Areas that provide this tempting meal of tender grass shoots can be modified to discourage geese.
Modifications may include:
- Removing grass areas or severely reducing their size. Playing fields that are primarily grass need to be located as far away from the water as possible, preferably with a fenced enclosure.
- Adding a buffer of tall and dense vegetation. Geese are fearful that possible predators may be hidden. The geese will be reluctant to cross through this type of barrier.
- Adding fences, terraces, or rock barriers – a simple line of rope, placed at goose height, can discourage geese from walking from water to a grassy site.
- Adding walking/biking paths next to shorelines. Geese prefer an easy access to feeding sites and will tend to avoid traffic areas.
- Planting unpalatable groundcovers or grasses such as tall fescue.
- Decreasing the use of fertilizers and watering during dry seasons. This will discourage geese from dining on new and tasty tender grass shoots.
- Leaving grass grow to at least 6 inches high.
- Providing natural wildlife habitats for feeding and nesting away from public areas – these locations may also provide opportunities for population control measures.
Scaring Devices (visual only – noise devices are not recommended because of human and companion animal disturbances) and Hazing
Success is best achieved by both alternating and using these methods in combination with each other. Geese are very intelligent and can become accustomed to their presence.
Some of these devices and techniques include:
- Adding strips of flashing tape or ribbon on barriers will cause rattling sounds and light flashes that frighten geese.
- Installing flashing or strobe lights for use at night will create an unsecure environment and the geese will congregate elsewhere.
- Using life size flags or cutouts of predators – an eagle or hawk kite soaring in the wind can be a deterrent because geese do not want to remain around a possible predator. The cities of Issaquah and Medina are using Eagle cutouts in their parks with great success.
- Flying Mylar balloons painted with eyespots depicting a bird of prey will elicit a flight response from geese.
- Using high-intensity hand held lasers to scare geese on land and ponds during the night without hurting them.
- Placing replicas of geese with their heads and necks stretched fully up, which indicates an alarm posture, have been found to be a deterrent to geese landing in these areas.
- Using dogs trained and closely supervised to chase but not harm geese has been used effectively to disperse geese.
To mitigate goose conflicts on private property, all surrounding neighbors should collectively develop a plan of well thought out humane actions and stay with it. If geese are drawn to a property, there is something appealing that needs to be identified and modified or removed.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of several goose repellents on lawns. Goose repellents will not poison the geese but the odor and taste discourage them from returning to the treated site. The city of Medina uses a spray called “Bird Stop” early in the spring. It makes the grass taste bitter so the geese will not return and it does not harm humans or the geese.
Population Control Measures
Impairing Canada Geese reproduction can be humanely achieved by:
- Addling or replacing eggs with dummy eggs to prevent hatching. Addling eggs includes puncturing, shaking, or applying corn oil to all of the eggs in a nest. This needs to be done early in the incubation period and by trained wildlife staff or volunteers.
Egg addling and replacement reduces the number of geese that will be present on a site later in the year and geese without young will be more easily deterred after the nesting season. Over time, this can result in stable or declining goose populations.
- Sterilization by oral contraception. OvoControl-G is a formulated product to help control the hatchability of eggs from resident geese; thereby, controlling their population. As described on the
“OvoControl, “birth control” for resident Canada geese and ducks offers an effective and humane tool to help manage the population of these birds. The product is administered to the birds as a once-a-day snack. OvoControl is non-hazardous and supported by all of the leading animal welfare organizations including the Humane Society and ASPCA and conservation groups, Audubon and the Peregrine Fund.
The technology complements other programs of bird management such as habitat modification, physical barriers and hazing methods.
OvoControl is very effective and will interfere with hatchability in approximately 95% of the eggs from treated birds.”
- Sterilization by surgical neutering. Surgical sterilization of male Canada geese can be effective in reducing populations. Breeding males must be caught, identified and treated by experts.
Before making any major landscape modifications or considering any population control methods for geese, communities and individuals must contact their appropriate government officials to determine which measures are approved and require federal, state or local permits.
Keeping Public Areas Clean from Goose Droppings
In addition to deterrents and population control measures there is the need to keep park areas clean from goose waste as part of normal park maintenance. This clean up can be achieved by the use of turf sweepers specifically designed to pick-up goose droppings or in smaller areas perhaps by a team of volunteers using pooper scoopers. The goose droppings can then be composted and used as bedding soil for plants.
An example of a turf sweeper is the Naturesweep product which was tested in 2006 at Gasworks Park and as reported in the Seattle Times, “After a brief spin, the hopper was not only full of poop, but also old turf plugs, cigarette butts and spent fireworks.”
Cities that are doing the right thing
The cities of Issaquah and Medina are to be commended for only using humane measures and for not being a part of the Interlocal Agreement. Issaquah is successfully using eagle cutouts in their parks to discourage geese. Medina is also successfully using eagle cutouts. In addition, they are treating the grass at their beach park with a bitter agent. The geese do not find the treated grass appealing and do not return. The grass treatment is environmentally friendly and not harmful to the geese, other wildlife, companion animals or humans.
What can local residents do to help geese?
A Change.org petition has been created asking officials to stop using lethal measures. Please click here to learn more and sign the petition. In addition, you can get more information and like us on Facebook under the name “Peace For Geese Project”.
All participants of the Interlocal Agreement contribute to the lethal control of geese. The killing of Canada Geese needs to stop and this option needs to be removed from the Interlocal Agreement. If the lethal option is not removed, members should withdraw from this agreement and create a new cooperative arrangement with other cities and entities that only utilize humane measures.
Residents can help by writing, emailing and calling their city officials and asking them to stop the killing and instead use only humane measures in mitigating geese conflicts. Remember, an Interlocal Agreement participant may deny that lethal control is being used in their parks. However, by being a member, they are still contributing to the overall lethal control of geese whether it is done in their parks or elsewhere.
Supporters are also encouraged to share this information with their friends and families.
Where can people find more information?
There is a vast amount of information on the internet concerning humane alternatives and mitigating conflicts with geese.
Many humane measures can be found on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) web site in the Living with Wildlife section http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/canada_geese.html.
Some other sources include:
Killing geese creates a void in the environment, other geese quickly move in, and a new round of killing begins. This creates an endless cycle of killing. The brutal killing of thousands of geese including their newborn goslings is unacceptable. We need to plan for and set aside natural habitats in our parks and other areas for wildlife to live undisturbed and this will also result in less conflicts.
Most people enjoy seeing wildlife. The sight and sounds of Canada Geese in the wild can remind us of the bond we have with nature and all living beings. Management of Canada Geese or any other wildlife that includes lethal actions is completely contrary to those virtues we value most in ourselves and others, like compassion, empathy, and tolerance. We must do a better job of sharing the earth with wildlife.
Please sign the Peace for Geese petition to stop the killing and contact your local officials.