Decision to euthanize NH geese creates flap

New Hampshire Union Leader Staff

Officials say the culling of 21 Canada geese and their goslings on Lake Todd on June 23 exposes a conflict between waterfront property owners and increasing numbers of birds in the area.

Part of the problem is the development and maintenance of lawns by the shore, officials acknowledge.

On June 23, officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services were paid by two property owners to round up and euthanize geese that had been fouling their properties. The federal government refused to identify the property owners.

The geese, flightless at this time of year because of moulting, were herded by kayak onto shore with their young, placed in crates, gassed to death in an enclosure, then frozen. Their bodies will be chopped up and fed to captive wildlife, such as bears and raptors at rehabilitation and captive facilities, said Carol Bannerman, public affairs specialist for wildlife services for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services in Riverdale, Md.

"My understanding is there was a history of seven years of trying different nonlethal methods," she said.

These include fencing and covering eggs with oil to make them nonviable. Often noise and other harassment efforts are attempted first.

USDA follows guidelines established by American Veterinary Medical Association on euthanasia of these birds, she said.

Dick Wright of Newbury, who lives near the lake, wrote letters to the editor of New Hampshire newspapers last week decrying the practice.

He said the problem is property owners who create large lawns and fake beaches that attract the birds and detour them from their migratory route.

Jared Teutsch, president of the New Hampshire Lakes Association, said conflict between the Canada geese and lakefront property owners is on the increase across the state.

He said native shores of brush are in some cases being replaced by lawns and man-made beaches. That is a welcome mat for migratory geese to settle down and nest. Once born here, they return and bear their own young and have life spans of up to 25 years.

He said his organization is trying to encourage the planting of native blueberries and other brush, which would discourage geese and protect the lake.

"There has been a lack of emphasis on shrubbing your shore," he said.

Since New Hampshire gets 50 percent of its drinking water from surface water, it makes the issue all the more important, he said.

Resident populations of Canada geese quadrupled between 1990 and 2008 along the Atlantic Flyway, according to federal estimates.

Since 1993, complaints have increased threefold, according to a federal Environmental Impact Statement issued in 2002. Of critical concern is flock proximity to airports, where the birds can bring down aircraft. But they have also become a problem in parks, golf courses and other open, green spaces.

In New Hampshire, a comfortable population of 16,000 resident birds was established by officials. As recently as 2004, N.H. Fish and Game pegged the resident Canada goose population at 30,000. The concentration is primarily in the south.

Bannerman said New Hampshire has not had the nuisance levels of states to the south, but the problem is growing as the state becomes more populous. In 2008, no geese were killed, she said. Last year, 42 were euthanized statewide.

Geese love to eat grass on lawns, where they have a view of oncoming predators. They also enjoy eating fish and insects and like being near shore.

"One of the things about geese is they produce a minimum of a half-pound to a pound of feces per day per bird. So especially at this time of year when they are flightless ... that creates conflict, extremely degraded land and people begin to have problems," she said.

New Hampshire also has a Canada goose hunting season.

This year it is Sept. 8 to 25, with a daily bag limit of five and a possession limit of 10. The season ends before nonresident Canada geese begin their migratory flight.


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