Op-Ed originally published in Duluth News Tribune

A Minnesota member of Friends of Animals has brought to our attention that Canada geese are being used as scapegoats by state and local leaders in Minnesota to address an environmental concern the leaders imposed themselves by allowing years of unbridled industrial activities.

In September, the Duluth City Council shamefully approved a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources plan to slaughter more than 300 of the birds next summer, blaming them for foiling efforts to restore wild rice on the St. Louis River. The goal is to create 275 acres of wild rice for wildlife habitat and for its important cultural heritage to the Ojibwe people (“ Duluth to consider goose-management plan in battle to restore wild rice ,” Sept. 22).

The gassing process the agency proposes to use simultaneously burns and freezes the birds’ lungs for up to 45 minutes before their so-called “humane” death. Gassing is totally inappropriate for geese who can hold their breath for prolonged periods.

Sulfates are what’s devastating wild rice, according to a 2020 Minnesota Environmental Partnership study. The study revealed that while efforts have been made to adequately address sulfate pollution, no real solution has materialized. For example, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency proposed a sulfate standard in wild rice waters to limit discharges, but the standard was simultaneously not strong enough to help wild rice and too strong for industry’s liking. The PCA also dropped out of efforts to establish a Total Maximum Daily Load plan for the St. Louis River watershed, despite partners in Wisconsin, the Fond du Lac Band and the federal government being willing to proceed.

Upstream from Duluth, there is still potential for the most dangerous and polluting mine in the state to open if PolyMet Mining gets its way. While PolyMet secured the approvals it needs to operate in 2019, three key permits the company needs to proceed remain suspended due to ongoing litigation. Thankfully, this summer, the Environmental Protection Agency recommended against reissuing PolyMet’s permit, saying the project risked increasing levels of mercury and other pollutants in the St. Louis River downstream from the proposed mine.

It’s absurd that the DNR is touting an archaic, myopic plan such as killing Canada geese — a federally protected species — to help restore wild rice. A new flock will just replace the one exterminated. The best long-term solution is exclosure fencing to deter Canada geese. The DNR admits that wild goose exclosures — orange plastic snow fencing around the rice — have been successful on Kingsbury Bay. Friends of Animals supports this type of humane, nonlethal solution.

After all, it’s not the fault of Canada geese that wild rice stopped growing near Duluth. State leaders need to be willing to put the environment and Canada geese first.

Priscilla Feral is president of Friends of Animals ( friendsofanimals.org ), an international animal-protection organization in Darien, Connecticut.