Geese are gassed at county park
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Community News (Elmwood Park Edition)

In an effort to control the population of geese in the Saddle River County Park on the Saddle Brook/Rochelle Park border, at least 30 of the species were gassed.

On June 24, 25 and 26 between the hours of 3 to 4:30 a.m., the Bergen County Parks Department, with the help of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), exterminated some of the Canada Geese population at the Saddle River County Park in the Pehle Park area between Saddle Brook and Rochelle Park.

Peter Both, an employee of the Bergen County Parks System, confirmed the extermination. According to Both, the gassing took place before the park was open to the public. When asked why the extermination was done, Both said, "we followed the guidelines of the USDA and everything we did was legal."

Saddle Brook resident Pat Sayers was walking in the park on June 25 around 6:15 a.m. and said she saw seven USDA trucks in the parking lot and "at least 100 goose body bags laying on the ground next to the trucks." She said she asked a person on scene what was taking place and the official, later identified as Both, told Sayers, "that we only killed 30 or so animals within the guidelines and regulations laid out by the USDA."

When asked about the encounter, Both confirmed it and further stated, "we did this before the park opened to protect against anyone in the area coming into contact with the deadly gas being used to exterminate the animals."

According to James Borghoff, a member of the Ridgewood Geese Peace Organization, a group that favors more humane ways of controlling the geese population, when he rode his bicycle the week of June 20, he saw average amounts of the birds throughout the Ridgewood and Saddle Brook/Rochelle Park areas of Saddle River County Park. Conversely, when he rode through the same parts June 28 and June 29, he saw at most five geese in the entire park.

"I didn’t see it myself, but something certainly happened," Borghoff said. "Someone from the Bergen County Parks Department had to notify the USDA and request that something be done about our local geese. I feel betrayed and let down."

The process to kill the birds can either be short or long, depending on who you ask. According to Carol Bannerman, public affairs specialist for the United States Wildlife Services, the process begins when members of the USDA use metallic magnetic slabs to round up the geese in the area. The magnets are used to disorient the birds. Once the birds are rounded up in a semi-corral, workers pluck three to four geese from the group and place them in a closed crate that has a hose lead in attached to it. From there, non flammable carbon dioxide is pumped in to the crate killing the birds. Bannerman stated the process takes two to five minutes but the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) disagrees with that estimate, saying it can take as long as 45 minutes to one hour.

Bannerman conceded that both time frames could be correct.

"Personally, I have never seen the gassing take place, but I have heard both estimates from co-workers," she said.

Bannerman spoke about the efforts that take place to change the habits of geese before gassing takes place. Before the extermination happens, the USDA helps local bodies with addling of the eggs.

Addling of the eggs, or oiling of the eggs, is the process by which national, local officials and local volunteer groups take recently born eggs and drop them into a bucket of water. If the egg does not have an air sack in it, i.e. lack of biological embryo, the egg sinks. If the egg sinks, the egg is coated in corn oil to plug the pores in the shell. This effectively stops any biological process from taking place before it ever has the chance to start.

If the eggs float showing signs of life, they are put back where they are found and allowed to hatch. This process has been taking place for approximately four years in Bergen County and is mainly done by members of the local Geese Peace Organization and members of the USDA.

It’s estimated that the USDA oils 45 percent of the eggs throughout the nation. In 2009, the USDA oiled 2,700 eggs and this past spring it oiled more than 4,000 eggs. In addition, the USDA changes local environments in subtle ways by raising grass levels and if that doesn’t work, it captures and removes the geese. In 2009, the USDA captured and removed 1,900 birds.

According to Borghoff, in the four years his group has been involved with the addling of eggs, the local geese population has stabilized. In 2009, the organization oiled 968 eggs coming from 232 nests. This means that over the course of the next eight years, there will be 9,023 fewer adult geese in the area.

Borghoff, who has been monitoring the geese population in Ridgewood and Saddle Brook since 2006, feels the Bergen County Parks System picked the wrong method of control.

"Truth be told, we have had good success with keeping the geese population down," he said. "Over the course of the past few years we have stabilized the population. With this being said, from my eyes, as someone who bikes the parks pretty much every morning and notes the current geese populations, it made no sense at all why Bergen County Parks would ask for the USDA’s help in this matter."

Bannerman said the Atlantic Flyaway Council, an organization that determines actions required for sound migratory game bird management and makes recommendations to the U.S. Wildlife Service, has suggested that the geese population be lessened.

"What people don’t know is that this issue stems around a determination made by The Atlantic Flyaway Council," said Bannerman. "The decision states that the Canada Geese population for New Jersey should be around 41,000. As of right now, current New Jersey Canada Geese population estimates puts the population at 90 to 95,000."

Numerous officials from Saddle Brook and Rochelle Park stated they did not have prior knowledge that this mass extermination was taking place.

Fit  story on 1 pageThe gassing of geese is approved by a permit granted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and by the New Jersey Wildlife Agency. Furthermore, these actions are in compliance with the National Wildlife Federal Protection Act which specifies gassing of animals can only take place if there is no long term impact on the natural environment or the long term survival of the animals living in the given environment.



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