Our old house in West Highlands is directly under the Canada Geese flight path. The flocks move daily from one northwest Denver park to another knowing, I suppose, where the feeding is best. There is still magic in watching those flocks, their V formations, their honks back and forth to one another. I used to believe, upon seeing a flock flying south in the winter, that they were bound for, oh, Florida…a nice winter vacation. But, of course, these critters do not, for the most part, migrate. (Something that I began to suspect a while ago when, in the winter, I would consistently see the flocks flying north instead of south. Light bulb popped on. Google provided the confirmation of my suspicions.)
It is, I suppose, axiomatic that Denver’s Canada Geese are prolific poopers. One need not go further than any of a number of our parks to observe those cylindrical green-gray leavings of a goose’s happy moment…that is, if you’ve ever considered evacuation of a prior meal a pleasing sensation. But, alas, it’s clear that Denver’s Wildlife Ecologist, Ashley DeLaup, has–evidenced by her recent “Critter Corner,” piece included in a recent issue of Denver’s Parks and Recreation media hype–concluded that the subject of goose poop needs addressing. I rather suspect that Ms. DeLaup has been inundated with queries from cranky curmudgeons who, no doubt, walk the parks and, upon their return home, find the souls of their shoes, um, poopie. I can hear it now: “Goddamnit, I pay taxes. Every damned time I go to a city park I’ve got to dodge goose shit in the grass, on the walkways. And, when I get home, I’ve got to spend ten minutes cleaning off the bottoms of my shoes. Now, what the hell is the city going to do about this? I’m a taxpayer. I want something done!”
For as many years as I’ve walked our parks, I can report that goose poop is an issue, if for only as long as it takes to avoid it and, if I’ve actually stepped in it, as long as it takes to scrape it off. Our Alaskan Malamute, Melissa, who passed away two years ago, used to eat the stuff. No, she didn’t pass away from, EGADS!, e-coli or some other assumed bacterial scourge extant in goose poop. She was old. Just old. But, she loved the stuff.
Now, Ms. DeLaup, Denver’s wildlife ecologist, asks the rhetorical question (in the above noted link): “Should Denver have so may geese? The simple answer is no.”
Backing up here a bit, and to be fair to Ms. DeLaup, her piece, “Critter Corner,” in the December issue of the Denver Parks and Recreation Newsletter (above link), was written primarily to discourage us all from, “…feeding wild animals…” in our parks. Good advice. But, she takes the opportunity to provide the postulate that, “…Malnourished birds are also more susceptible to life threatening diseases, as has been noted by bird die-offs in Denver. …Some birds have stopped migrating because they do not need to fly south to find food. They crowd into small areas, eat in the same place where they defecate, pollute water sources and over graze our blue grass lawns. Water sources show unsightly algal blooms and high levels of e-coli. They make our parks less attractive and appealing for recreation.”
Okay. Try as she might, Ms. DeLaup’s comments beg several questions. First, of course, is the matter of “…bird die-offs in Denver.” From an earlier post, it is instructive to review the following:
…we need to understand what “Avian Botulism is.”
Avian botulism is a paralytic disease caused by ingestion of a toxin produced by the bacteria, Clostridium botulinum. This bacteria is widespread in soil and requires warm temperatures, a protein source and an anaerobic (no oxygen) environment in order to become active and produce toxin. Decomposing vegetation and invertebrates combined with warm temperatures can provide ideal conditions for the botulism bacteria to activate and produce toxin. There are several types of toxin produced by strains of this bacteria; birds are most commonly affected by type C and to a lesser extent type E.
Birds either ingest the toxin directly or may eat invertebrates (e.g. chironomids, fly larvae) containing the toxin. Invertebrates are not affected by the toxin and store it in their body. A cycle develops in a botulism outbreak when fly larvae (maggots), feed on animal carcasses and ingest toxin. Ducks that consume toxin-laden maggots can develop botulism after eating as few as 3 or 4 maggots.
* Type C toxin: waterfowl, shorebirds, colonial waterbirds, and others
* Type E toxin: gulls, loons, and others
Clinical Signs/Field Signs
Healthy birds, affected birds, and dead birds in various stages of decay are commonly found in the same area. The toxin affects the nervous system by preventing impulse transmission to muscles. Birds are unable to use their wings and legs normally or control the third eyelid, neck muscles, and other muscles. Birds with paralyzed neck muscles cannot hold their heads up and often drown. Death can also result from water deprivation, electrolyte imbalance, respiratory failure, or predation.
Okay. I understand. A horrible death.
Keeping Ms. DeLaup honest here, the question of course, is whether or not feeding popcorn to geese trumps the affects of graywater being pumped into Denver’s park’s lakes? The “nutrients” from graywater surely contribute to the development of those toxins that inexorably lead to horrible deaths of waterfowl. Ms. DeLaup suggests that a poor nutritent diet of popcorn or “junk foods” leads to “…malnourished and sickly populations. Look for birds with ‘slipped wings’ or ‘angel wings,’ they have been raised on a high calorie, low nutrient diet of human food and are now too deformed to fly.” (Please note the highlighted snippet, above.) Hmmm… Cause and effect. Popcorn or graywater or, indeed, contaminated effluent finding its way into our city’s park’s lakes? Clearly, Ms. DeLaup argues popcorn as the culprit. Methinks Ms. DeLaup leans toward the simplistic, rather than delving into the more complex and, perhaps, more likely reason for “…bird die-offs.”
Once again, from the above linked prior post:
First, we need to understand the term, “greywater.” From this site, comes the following:
Greywater(washwater) sources are found in the kitchen, the laundry, bathrooms/washrooms, sinks, and showers. None of these sources carries water which is likely to contain disease organisms of anywhere the same magnitude as those in toilet wastes.
Historically speaking, it was not so very long ago that lakes, rivers and coastal waters were clean and supported a balanced aquatic plant and animal life. As rivers and lakes started to receive organic pollution from industry, sewers, septic systems, and present -day agricultural and livestock-raising practices, these organics decomposed in the water, consuming the oxygen dissolved in it–oxygen crucial for fish and other aquatic animals. This process is known as primary pollution.
Concomitant with the primary pollution, algae and other “out -of- balance” plant species start to grow as the result of being fertilized by the surge of nutrients from the above-mentioned sources. These fertilized plants, in turn, die and decompose, further robbing the water of its naturally dissolved oxygen. This phase is called secondary pollution (Diagram A), or “eutrophication”, and is considerably more damaging to the oxygen level than primary pollution.
This site, Canada Goose Hall of Shame, provides–if you click on any of the communities listed–a commentary of goose “population control” that has taken place in those communities. Yes, controlled killings, hunting, of these wonderful birds seems to be the “shameful” solution.
One would hope that Denver would, if it is determined that the Canada Goose population in Denver requires a culling of sorts, that the process be undertaken with great care, respect for these critters who, after all, were here well before us. Kind of like Native Americans. But, that story ends in a more shameful culling from more than a century ago, that, come to think of it–if you change a couple words of Ms. DeLaup’s conclusion, provides: “Should the Colorado have so many Indians. The simple answer is no.”
I guess, then, the question is what Ms. DeLaup’s solution is. Yes, she urges us to stop feeding the geese “junk food.” But, what about that conclusion that we’ve just got too many geese hanging around? What’s she going to do about that?
Okay. Some facts. At least some facts as provided by the Feds.
The Canada Geese we see in our parks are predominantly, if not exclusively, resident geese, they are not migratory. Migratory birds are protected by international treaties going all the way back to 1916, treaties that specifically names the Secretary of the Interior as the point person with regard to the enforcement of those treaties. But, as I said, our geese are not migratory.
From the Federal Register: August 10, 2006, comes 50 CFR Parts 20 and 21, “Migratory Bird Hunting and Permits; Regulations for Managing Resident Canada Goose Populations; Final Rule. From this document which, I believe, is the latest word from the Feds on Canada Goose overpopulation in the United States and the mitigation of the same, I’ll simply pull some pertinent data. The complete document is quite lengthy–as most governmental regulations are. But, for me, it was interesting reading. The link above will take you there, if you have an interest.
Definition of “Resident:”
Canada geese are highly philopatric to natal areas, and no evidence presently exists documenting breeding between Canada geese nesting within the conterminous United States and those subspecies nesting in northern Canada and Alaska. Canada geese nesting within the conterminous United States in the months of March, April, May, or June, or residing within the conterminous United States in the months of April, May, June, July, and August will be collectively referred to in this rule as “resident” Canada geese.
The methodology the Feds use, and perhaps others, to classify Canada Goose populations consists of several “Flyways.” While the majority of Canada Geese still nest in Alaska and Canada with migration as far a northern Mexico, the observable trend over the last thirty or so years has seen an increasing number of Canada Geese spreading southward, many, as noted, becoming “resident” to areas in the United States, including Denver. The “Flyway” zones are described by the Feds as the “Atlantic,” the “Mississippi,” the “Central,” which includes portions of Colorado, the “Pacific,” which also includes portions of Colorado. Administrative “Councils” have been established in each of the “Flyways,” to make recommendations with regard to the Canada Goose populations.
The Flyway Councils work with the Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service to manage populations of Canada geese that occur in their geographic areas. Since there are large numbers of resident Canada geese in each Flyway, the Councils developed and prepared cooperative Flyway management plans to address these populations and establish overall population goals and associated objectives/strategies. A common goal among the plans is the need to balance the positive aspects of resident Canada geese with the conflicts they can cause.
Now, these “Flyway Councils” were, apparently, formed in order to give more leeway to State and local governmental entities in the “control” of Canada Goose populations. The reasoning being, those closest to the “problem” are more able to determine reasonable solutions.
…the objective of this rule is to allow State wildlife management agencies, private and public landowners, and airports sufficient flexibility to deal with problems, conflicts, and damages caused by resident Canada geese and guide and direct resident Canada goose population growth and management activities in the conterminous United State when traditional and otherwise authorized management measures are unsuccessful in preventing injury to property, agricultural crops, public health, and other interests. The goal of the program established by this rule will contribute to human health and safety, protect personal property and agricultural crops, protect other interests from injury, and allow resolution or prevention of injury to people, property, agricultural crops, or other interests from resident Canada geese.
The Service is authorizing States and other affected publics to take geese in certain circumstances but retains the authority and management responsibility. Certainly States, because of their intimate knowledge of local conflicts, issues, and problems, are the logical choice to make specific, local-based decisions on resident Canada goose management activities within the requirements and limitations in the regulation. The Service will maintain primary authority over nests and egg removal activities and airport activities and will maintain oversight authority on all other activities that participating States decide to implement.
Why Canada Goose “resident” populations have proliferated:
The rapid rise of resident Canada goose populations has been attributed to a number of factors. Most resident Canada geese live in temperate climates with relatively stable breeding habitat conditions and low numbers of predators, tolerate human and other disturbances, have a relative abundance of preferred habitat (especially those located in urban/suburban areas with current landscaping techniques), and fly relatively short distances to winter compared with other Canada goose populations. This combination of factors contributes to consistently high annual production and survival. Further, the virtual absence of waterfowl hunting in urban areas provides additional protection to those urban portions of the resident Canada goose population. Given these characteristics, most resident Canada goose populations are continuing to increase in both rural and urban areas.
Human health concerns:
Although the human health and safety risks associated with resident Canada geese are controversial and difficult to quantify, we believe that available data clearly indicates the raised level of public concern and the potential health issues associated with resident Canada geese. While we agree that the risk to human health from pathogens originating from geese is currently believed to be low, we are only beginning to understand these risks. There is a general perception among the public and a concern among resource management personnel that resident Canada geese do have the ability to transmit diseases to humans, but a direct link is difficult to establish due to the expense of testing and the difficulty of tracing the disease back to Canada
geese. Studies have confirmed the presence of human pathogens in goose feces, so the presence of these feces in water or on the ground where humans may come into contact with them is a legitimate health concern.
Just a thought here. The Feds notation that human “pathogens” have been found in goose poop, is instructive not so much for the “fear” value of such a statement, but, rather, as an opportunity to ask the question in what relative terms should we view human pathogens in goose poop? Should we not consider the risk to human health–not to mention waterfowl–from contaminated effluent flowing into our lakes? Indeed, isn’t the specter of human pathogens about as broad as the environment we happen to find ourselves living in these days. Hell, spend some time in a hospital and pray, I mean really pray, that you leave that hospital without contracting a staph for strep infection that, most likely, will be worse, more destructive than what you went into the hospital for in the first place. Where, I ask, in our traipse through life, amongst our workmates, our families, restaurants, our back yards, our ride on the bus or train; where are we not constantly exposed to and vulnerable to pathogens? I go through this litany only to point out that, ahem, goose poop is pretty low on the pathogen scale, buckaroos. Please, let’s not get carried away with a culling of the Canada Goose from our parks in the name of HEALTH CONCERNS. Yes, I know, under George W. the mindset of fear has permeated our culture. But, please, we’re talking about critters here; critters that have as much worth, value to the natural balance of our little lives on this earth as you or me. One pauses here with the thought that human overpopulation has produced a pathogenetic nightmare certainly trumping that of goose poop!
The Feds, like any bureaucratic entity tend to be a bit, oh, wordy. New regulations with regard to the remediation of this “problem,” (they actually use the word “depredation”) are encompassed in “Alternative F,” which, if you really have an interest, I suggest you utilize the “Find” function and key on “Alternative F.” Just a portion of this accepted alternative reads:
Alternative F (Integrated Damage Management and Population Control) was selected because increased lethal and nonlethal activities would be expected to significantly decrease the number of injurious resident Canada geese in specific localized areas, especially airports and military airfields, agricultural areas, urban/suburban areas subjected to nest and egg removal, and public health threat areas. Further, expanded hunting opportunities inside the existing hunting frameworks and additional management take outside the sport hunting frameworks would help decrease populations and injuries on a more regional and statewide scale, compared to site-specific management activities. Regionally and nationally, we expect resident Canada goose populations would gradually return to levels that we, the Flyway Councils, and the
States believe are more compatible with human activities, especially in those high-conflict areas related to public health and safety, agricultural depredation, and urban and suburban areas. The long-term viability of goose populations and other Federally-protected species would not be affected.
Wading through the CFR Section 20 and 21, which I’ve linked to above, is not a particularly pleasurable task. But, from what I’ve gleaned, there appears to be several “lethal” and “non-lethal” methods of Canada Goose population control: hunting; noise and disturbance devices (primarily for airports and military installations); environmental/landscaping endeavors that would make nesting sites less desirable; egg addling or oiling that would necessarily kill the unborn.
Egg addling – This practice is viewed by some as a lethal form of goose control because the eggs are destroyed. Most animal rights organizations endorse this method as an alternative to slaughter and gassing. Eggs are shaken and coated with corn oil. Geese will not know that their eggs have been destroyed and continue incubation. This is one of the methods used by GeesePeace, Canadian Wildlife Services, and US Fish and Wildlife Services.
I love our Canadian friends. The poop is a nuisance. But, have we, as human beings, lost so much of our primordial link to the essential lessons, the essential wisdom of those creatures who inhabit our earth along with our human egoistical foot slog through the travails of life on this blue planet; yes, have we become so inured to our perceived dominance over nature that we have lost sight of our responsibility to respect, even revere the insight, the wisdom of the the ebb and flow of this good earth that critters possess (something that we, human beings, have lost), to consider goose poop a matter of priority, a matter so pressing that Ms. DeLaup feels comfortable in utilizing the specter of correcting the same as a reasonable device to appease the rants of curmudgeons who, most likely, shoo small children from their lawns because they might trample down the bluegrass?
Yes, my Canadian friends have proliferated to the point that their presence is…well… Okay, I’ll say it: There are just a wee bit too many of you, my Canadian friends, playing in our parks. People need parks, too. I agree. And, your poop is, um, kind of antisocial, if you know what I mean. So is dog shit. But, in my experience, most responsible dog owners take care of that issue as a matter of course; just something that goes along with identifying a critter as part of the human family.
So, Ms. DeLaup, I present herewith a challenge: COME UP WITH A SOLUTION! But, be careful. What would our parks be without geese? What magic would be lost if those V formations and honking songs vanish from our skies?
And, now that I think about it, addling is a form of abortion. God, what will the Catholics, the Fundamentalists have to say about that! But, then, methinks these good “Christians” rarely extend their passions to critters…especially if they’ve got to spend a couple minutes cleaning goose poop from the soles of their shoes. As an aside, I noticed that the currently revealed “Marina Project” for Sloan’s Lake provides for a hosing down area where goose poop can be removed from shoes or other parts of the body or, perhaps, tarps or blankets or whatever has come in contact with the leavings a goose’s happy moment.
I, of course, have again gone on for too long. Sorry. I guess just one additional picture wouldn’t hurt, though.