Monday, September 1, 2008

Making peace with local geese a problem for citified folk

The Morning News
Local News for Northwest Arkansas

Who is GeesePeace?
By Anna Fry
BELLA VISTA -- GeesePeace is a name bandied about in Bella Vista since June, but residents may be unfamiliar with the Virginia-based nonprofit.
The organization works with communities to promote nonlethal methods for controlling Canada geese, Director David Feld said.
The Bella Vista Property Owners Association planned a GeesePeace visit after residents complained about a board decision to use a federal permit to shoot 100 geese. The board recently revisited the issue and will pursue peaceful methods.
Many residents say geese feces foul the community's lakes, parks and golf courses.
Feld and possibly another expert will visit in October to suggest a plan for controlling the estimated 1,000 geese. Feld said he examined aerial photographs and will inspect sites where geese congregate.
Until he has done so, he can't give a specific recipe to solve Bella Vista's problem, he said. But the organization has some basic methods that he'll suggest.
It's up to communities GeesePeace helps to implement their own control methods.
The first component of GeesePeace's plan is stabilizing the population by oiling goose eggs from the end of March through April.
Eggs are dropped in water to test whether embryos developed lungs. If the eggs float, the embryos have lungs and are left alone.
"You want people to know it's humane and there are limits to the interruption of life," Feld said.
If the egg sinks, the embryo has no lungs. The egg is coated with corn oil to seal pores so oxygen can't get in and biological processes stop.
The second component is "site aversion," which means making areas inhospitable to geese. This should be done in May to mid-June because geese need a safe place when they molt in mid-June, Feld said. During molting, geese lose and replace feathers and cannot fly.
GeesePeace suggests using Border collies to chase geese both on land and water. Volunteers put the collies on boats, then the collies swim and chase geese in the water. The collies return to land to chase geese again. The process is repeated until the geese feel the area isn't safe, Feld said.
Site aversion should also be done in the winter and fall because Arkansas has mild weather, Feld said.
Darrell Bowman, the association's lake ecology and fisheries manager, said he doesn't advocate scare tactics, which he doesn't see as viable.
"It amounts to moving the problem around, and I think we're just going to chase geese around in our own areas," he said.
Bowman questions where geese will go because many Northwest Arkansas cities have the same problem, he said. Bella Vista's geese are considered resident geese because they no longer migrate.
Feld said geese can be moved to areas that don't bother people if communities coordinate their efforts.
"There's lots of places geese can go that nobody cares," he said. "They don't have to be at your favorite golf course."
The association's golf division tried methods such as chasing the geese with dogs, but nothing worked, said Christy Attlesey, communications manager.
Bowman said he's read GeesePeace's Web site, and it proposes methods that are already part of a goose management plan the association board approved in February. Obtaining the federal permit to shoot 100 geese was one of many strategies, he said.
"As a manager, you want to use every tool in your toolbox," Bowman said.
Two other possible aversion tactics won't work in Bella Vista because its grassy areas and lakes are too large, Feld said. Some communities use repellents to discourage geese from eating grass and plant tall grass around water bodies to give the impression predators could be hiding.
The final component of GeesePeace's plan is educating the public that feeding geese is bad because it keeps them in the area, Feld said. The City Council passed an ordinance in May prohibiting feeding any migratory waterfowl.
Oiling eggs requires registering online with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but GeesePeace's other methods don't require permits, Feld said.
The key to a community's success is good leadership and it seems Bella Vista has that, Feld said. GeesePeace's program was successful in numerous cities including Hempstead and Oyster Bay in New York and Stratford-Upon-Avon in England, he said.
Feld cofounded GeesePeace in the late 1990s when his hometown, Lake Barcroft, Va., experienced a similar situation. The Washington suburb had about 120 geese that stayed year-round.
George Waters, who was then president of Lake Barcroft's homeowners association, said feces fouled the community's five beaches and about 250 lakefront homes.
"Lawns and beaches were just completely covered with goose poop," he said. "You could literally go out there and slip on it. Who wants to go to a beach and be surrounded by goose poop?"
A fight arose in the community about whether to use lethal options to control the geese. At a community meeting, the decision was made combine harassment techniques with egg oiling.
Lake Barcroft whittled its resident goose population to about 20, Waters said. Volunteers still go out with Border collies to chase the geese.

What's Next

Public Meeting
David Feld, director and co-founder of GeesePeace, will speak at a public meeting at 6 p.m. Oct. 22 in Riordan Hall.

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