By Priscilla Feral
Opinion Greenwich Comment, Greenwich Time Greenwich, CT
(Published: May 17, 2005)

The town of Greenwich is in the midst of deciding whether to kill Canada geese. It has already applied for permission to round up 200 geese and goslings in late June, at Bruce Park, at Byram Park, at Binney Park, at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park, and at the Griffith E. Harris Memorial Golf Course. A Friends of Animals representative participated in a meeting on the 11th of May to decide the birds’ fate. After our representative insisted that lethal responses be removed from discussion, we were not invited to join a committee that will continue the talks. Yet other animal welfare groups — groups that did not object to the idea that potentially lethal methods might remain as a backup plan — were invited to join that commitee.

That committee should know that roundups are a nasty business. At dawn, cordoned off from the public view, workers separate goslings from parents, and corral the birds into pens. Videos of Seattle and New Jersey kills show United States Department of Agriculture workers forcing bound, panicked geese into portable gas chambers. In some cases, geese have been killed by gunshot or by hand. Predictably, geese repopulate the area over the months to come.

If we think there are too many geese in our midst, there are better answers. With thought, planning, and effort, Greenwich parks can be ecologically restored, to address the bird imbalance naturally.

Experts report that increased Canada goose nesting in the northeast signifies ecological degradation, caused not by geese, but by human landscaping trends. That’s because adult geese like the flat surfaces we humans build. Those surfaces, with their open views, help geese to identify intruders and escape predators, especially during the nesting season.

Thus, experts recommend landscape modification as one of the most effective and environmentally sound methods for reducing Canada goose nesting and feeding. Habitat modification doesn’t turn a park into a forest; it simply means strategic placement of bushes, shrubs, small meadows to block line of sight geese require for safety from predators. (Friends of Animals will be presenting landscaping guides to Greenwich selectmen.)

Unfortunately, Greenwich parks supervisor Joseph Siciliano and Selectmen Lash and Crumbine continue to pooh-pooh the idea of landscape changes, saying simply that Greenwich prefers its parks manicured. Yet as long as the parks remain unmodified, there will be geese.

Signs in parks, advising residents to allow nesting geese ample space, and not to feed them, can prevent perceived conflicts. Parents should be advised to instruct young children not to chase geese, or to get too close.

Sometimes the answers are as simple as housekeeping: raking golf courses, and proper, regular clean-up of business parks and marinas, athletic fields near low-lying waterways, and housing projects. For beaches, local maintenance professionals should simply rake the grounds.

Over the years, numerous experts — even experts at the very agencies that propose killing projects as an easy first resort — have made it clear that geese pose no health problems beyond those posed by other waste matter; all can be cleaned up together. Indeed, unless attacked or threatened, geese pose no threat to humans at all. Geese will bluff to protect their nests, but unprovoked physical attacks are rare.

In short, if we insist on creating an environment that attracts geese, it’s our responsibility to maintain that property in a way that enables people to get through the two months of the year that geese are flightless and congregate there. By late summer, they’re moving about and people stop complaining. That people are so intolerant of several weeks of goose droppings — given the pressure the high human population has on the environment, mystifies us.

Concerned readers, please do call Greenwich officials to unveil the pressure group behind any goose-killing agenda, and suggest that people learn to share the landscape with Canada geese, swans and ducks.

Further, please tell Greenwich officials that the destruction of geese in one area where they congregate encourages other geese to occupy the temporary vacuum. The result is a myopic cycle of violence which we should oppose before it begins.

We can learn to live with geese. It’s time to get away from a consumer’s approach to native animals with whom we share territory, selecting which species we’ll tolerate, when and how many. This results in cycles of exterminations, largely carried out away from the public eye. It is up to the majority to know, and to say “No.”