Air Date: Week of July 14, 2000
Washington state officials have begun gassing Canadian Geese to reduce their numbers in the Puget Sound area. Two years ago, Living On Earth reported about efforts to control the goose population by oiling eggs to prevent them from hatching. But the birds continued to multiply. Deirdre Kennedy reports from Seattle.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Fifty years ago it was rare to see a Canada goose in the Puget Sound area. Today there are so many of them that some consider them to be a major annoyance to people in metropolitan Seattle. Two years ago we told you about efforts to reduce the region's Canada goose population by coating the eggs with oil to prevent them from hatching. Now authorities have decided to resort to lethal solutions to alleviate their goose problem. From Seattle, Deirdre Kennedy reports.
KENNEDY: It's a beautiful hot summer evening at Seattle's Green Lake Park, where two dozen Canada geese and their young are scrambling for bread that park visitors have tossed in the water.
KENNEDY: It may be one of the last meals for these birds. They're among several thousand Canada geese slated to be killed this summer. Wildlife officials have been herding the geese onto trucks, taking them to a holding station, and then gassing them with carbon dioxide. The goose problem began in the 1980’s, a few decades after the birds were brought here. Since then, the lush metropolis of Seattle and its environs, with its lakes, manicured lawns, and parks, has become a year-round habitat for the formerly migrating geese. There are now estimated to be more than 20,000 in the Puget Sound area. And, pretty as they are, each bird can deposit up to three pounds of feces a day, creating an ugly situation for park visitors and boating enthusiasts.
WOMAN: If you don't sweep the dock, you're covered in goose poop. You just get goose poop all over your hands, and it's really gross. It's disgusting.
MAN: They just ruin the parks. I mean, people used to like to put a blanket down, but now you have to try to find a spot that's not contaminated. And so, it's just a big nuisance.
KENNEDY: Last year the high fecal content in public swimming areas prompted health officials to temporarily close several Seattle-area beaches and lakes. Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Donald Harris says the problem has since spread.
HARRIS: More recently, and I think somewhat graphically, we're starting to get parents calling us to say that their kids are playing in what they described as a fecal soup. Basically, geese hanging out on ball fields, it rains, it turns muddy. It's a mixture of dirt and geese feces.
KENNEDY: The birds are also blamed for nearly five million dollars in property damage, at least nine goose-related air crashes, and numerous road accidents. All of which have raised public demands that officials deal with the goose problem.
(Splashing and honking)
KENNEDY: Over the past ten years, solutions have included chasing the birds away, spraying their eggs with nontoxic mineral oil to stop them from hatching -- a process known as egg addling -- and spreading grape oil repellent on lawns and playing fields. But Don Harris of the King County Parks Department says none of those methods has sufficiently reduced the goose population. Killing, he says, is the only option left.
HARRIS: We've tried translocation, egg addling, encouraging the public not to feed them. Some have suggested a greater use of dogs. All dogs do is move them from one place to another. Basically, we believe we have tried every viable solution short of this.
KENNEDY: Canada geese are protected under federal law. They can only be killed if they pose a significant threat to agriculture or human health. Geese can transmit giardia and salmonella and other gastrointestinal diseases, though so far there have been no reported cases of such illnesses linked to the birds. But last March, the federal government issued a permit allowing wildlife services to round up and gas as many as 3,500 Canada geese from throughout the Puget Sound area. Animal rights groups, including the Humane Society, sued, but failed to win an injunction stopping the kill. Northwest Animal Rights Network spokesman Wayne Johnson.
JOHNSON: From a moral point of view, it is not right to go and kill simply because an animal is a nuisance. These geese are not threatening us in any serious way. They are simply a nuisance and we have made pooping into a capital crime.
KENNEDY: Wildlife services have been rounding up the birds since June and have reportedly killed at least 2,000 of the geese already. Officials have tried to quell public opposition by offering goose meat to food banks.
KENNEDY: The USDA's Roger Woodruff says even if this year's program is successful, it won't eliminate the goose problem completely.
WOODRUFF: I don't think that it'll ever get to the point where there's not any geese in any park. Other geese will filter in over time, and that's why it's important to incorporate these other aspects of goose management, the non-lethal methods that would try to keep them away in the first place.
KENNEDY: Roger Woodruff says his department will likely have to use lethal methods again next year as part of its long-term plan. For now, officials say they're working as quickly as they can to remove the geese while they're still molting their feathers and can't fly away.
KENNEDY: In Seattle, I'm Deirdre Kennedy for Living on Earth.
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