Canada geese lay green droppings – not golden eggs – in parks, golf courses and playing fields, so for that reason and others, they are now literally under increased fire in New York State.
The September goose hunting season opens today, and the state’s nearly 20,000 goose hunters will be able to kill 15 geese a day, almost twice as many as the eight they could take in past years, because of an updated rule by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“I think it will have a dramatic impact on a statewide scale,” said Bryan Swift, a waterfowl specialist at the DEC’s head office in Albany.
Swift estimated the new rules could result in a 10 percent increase above the 50,000 geese annually killed during the September hunting season.
Longtime goose hunter Robert Keicher of the local Safari Club International is not sure how much of an impact the new limit will have. His group of about a dozen hunters travels together and often kills 30 to 40 geese – all for meat – in a day’s effort. But Keicher understands the DEC’s desire to relax the regulation.
“My God, they’re everywhere,” said Keicher, who promised he would be hunting this morning.
Keicher predicted more residents might open their properties to goose hunting.
“People loved them, they didn’t want anybody shooting them,” said Keicher. “A few years later, they called and said, ‘We’ll pay you to come.’ A lot of people just don’t know how to handle them.”
Clarence, where swales and neighborhood ponds dot the landscape, has been on the front lines of problem geese for years. The town has employed a range of measures to curtail geese populations, including at its Goodrich Road municipal center.
“They go to the bathroom everywhere, that’s the problem with the geese,” said Clarence Supervisor David Hartzell, who said mostly nonlethal means have been employed.
The DEC’s tweaking of the hunting rules, however, may aid the town’s efforts.
“It will be advantageous to the town of Clarence that there will additional opportunities to take geese,” Hartzell said.
Besides the increased daily “bag limit,” three additional new DEC regulations are designed to give goose hunters like Keicher’s group more advantages in New York in an effort to reduce populations of the resident fowl from their current statewide level of 200,000 to a targeted level of 85,000.
• Shooting hours will be extended from sunset to a half-hour past sunset – a time when most geese are mobile, on the way to their home bases for the night.
• Electronic calling devices will be permitted to “help entice geese within shooting range,” usually 50 yards or less.
• Hunters will be able to carry shotguns with up to seven shells, instead of the usual three.
“There are clearly far too many geese for people to tolerate,” Swift said. “We feel the need right now is to get the population down.”
Setting the limit at 15 puts the state regulations in line with federal regulations for hunting Canada geese.
The September Canada Goose Season runs from today through Sept. 25 before the regular season begins Oct. 26 and is designed to specifically target “nuisance” resident geese.
The monthlong “cease-fire” is designed to protect migrating Canada geese heading from the Arctic Coastal areas of northern Quebec through New York toward the south for the winter. That migration usually occurs in the “last third” of September, Swift said.
“It’s free passage,” Swift said. “From what we’ve found, the migrating geese stay migrating geese. Birds of a feather stay together.”
Still, while the strategy draws praise from some hunters and suburban communities battling the proliferation of the Canada goose, animal rights activists have long called the measures inappropriate and counterproductive.
“Not only is shooting them cruel, it’s not going to work. It’s just going to cause the remaining geese to breed more,” said Kristin Simon, a senior cruelty case worker for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
“These animals are going to continue to try and have babies. That’s what nature put them here to do,” Simon said. “The state will actually wind up with more geese. That’s basic population ecology.”
The neighborhood nuisance is just one issue.
Large numbers of Canada geese cause problems for the aviation industry, too, like on Jan. 15, 2009, when a flock collided with the jet engines of U.S. Airways Flight 1549.
In that incident, dubbed “Miracle on the Hudson,” Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III successfully landed the Airbus A320 on the surface of the Hudson River, minutes after taking off from LaGuardia Airport. All 155 aboard survived.
Federal authorities for years have rounded up thousands of resident Canada geese around New York-area airports during the bird’s summer molting period and gassed them to death. The carcasses were dumped into landfills, according to national media reports. Last year, about 700 were captured near JFK International and killed. The goose meat was donated to area food pantries.
New York City isn’t the only place with goose problems.
Bird strikes – many including Canada geese – have caused significant damage to aircraft, according to more than 100,000 reports from around the country, including Buffalo Niagara International.
On Oct. 29, 2001, a flock of Canada geese struck a Boeing 737 on approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport. “We have zero-tolerance policy for any sort of goose,” said Thomas C. Dames, airfield superintendent at Buffalo Niagara International Airport. “If we see one, it is an all-hands effort to get the geese off the airfield immediately.”
Besides cutting grasses at the airport no lower than 6 inches – geese prefer shorter grass like a golf course fairway – local aviation officials use several other measures to keep them off the property. Managing them is a combined effort from airline pilots, those in the control tower and people like Sinclair Fabor, a senior grounds worker at the airport who’s charged with harassing flocks of geese off the airfield. Sometimes it just takes driving up close to them in his bright yellow airport vehicle. Other times require the use of pyrotechnics or a propane cannon blast.
At 7:40 a.m. Aug. 16, it was all hands on deck when a pilot informed the control tower he would not take off with 40 of the birds within sight of his plane. Seven separate shots with loud or screaming firework-type devices chased them away, according to the airport’s log book.
“Once you learn the technique, you can literally guide the birds off the property,” Fabor said.
“It’s really a statewide problem now in all urban and suburban areas,” the DEC’s Swift said. “They’re close to saturation of their natural habitat.”
Simon said the DEC should clean up trash from the environment to reduce the goose population, or use scare tactics to keep them away from certain areas. The state can also enforce wildlife feeding prohibitions.
“I don’t see the number of the geese as the real issue. We have developed more and more land and encroached on their land,” Simon said. “Certainly these animals are not the villains, they’re just trying to survive. People really need to coexist with these animals and not let a few geese ruffle their feathers.”
The nonviolent ways of controlling geese, Swift said, have proven ineffective at reducing the overall numbers of resident geese.
Too often, said Swift, they just “move the problem to someone else.”