In an unannounced visit to the Lake Vista neighborhood, federal agricultural officials captured 66 geese for euthanasia early Wednesday, culminating a months-long dispute that deeply divided residents in the Forest subdivision.
The roundup started before 7:15 a.m., according to Bedford County communications dispatchers. The Bedford County Sheriff’s Office sent a patrol car, said neighborhood property manager Chris Falwell, “just to make sure the process went through.”
“They were gone before I even got here,” he said when reached for comment Wednesday morning.
The board of the Lake Vista Property Owners Association voted 8-3 in February to have the U.S. Department of Agriculture remove the geese, a decision that drew the ire of many and still had residents fuming Wednesday.
Mauranna Sherman, one of the neighborhood’s most vocal supporters of the geese, said the board has ignored suggestions she and others have made for non-lethal methods to manage the geese population. She cried when she learned of the removal of the birds shortly after 10 a.m., and added she was not aware it took place.
“I find them all despicable,” she said of the group that pushed to remove the animals. “I’m furious with them. They are under-handed. They’re disgusting.”
Some residents in the neighborhood of nearly 500 homes favored the measure, arguing the birds’ feces were a health threat, while others opposed it, saying there is no concrete evidence to support the claim of a risk and the animals blend in with the area’s nature and beauty.
Leigh Doyle, president of the property owners association, said in an email received by The News & Advance at about 9:45 a.m. Wednesday the USDA had completed the roundup.
“We have no further comment,” Doyle wrote.
Even with the more than 60 geese captured, Falwell said there still are geese out in the neighborhood.
“I believe they said some of them still had their flying feathers,” Falwell said. “They didn’t catch them all.”
However, he said the USDA crews will not return any time soon.
The majority of the board targeted this time of year for the capture, from mid-June to mid-July, to coincide with the molting season, in which the birds shed feathers and are temporarily unable to fly.
The geese debate was at its peak this week.
On Monday, Bedford Circuit Court Judge James Updike ruled to deny a request for a temporary injunction the geese supporters sought. They had argued removing and killing the birds violates a section of the restrictions and covenants in the community that promote protecting wildlife.
After the ruling, Doyle said the decision was nothing to be happy about. She referred to the step as a “last resort” and said Tuesday she hopes the board will not have to pursue any more roundups. She encouraged residents to follow a simple rule of not feeding wildlife to deter the overpopulating of geese.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an international animal protection organization, sent the board and Falwell a letter Tuesday urging a halt to the geese roundup.
Kristin Simon, a caseworker for PETA, said in a statement Wednesday the animals “no doubt suffered immensely throughout the ordeal and died horribly.” The lethal initiative was “misguided as it was cruel,” she said.
“As we emphatically explained to Lake Vista officials, as long as the area remains attractive to geese and food sources remain, more birds will fly in and the population will rebound. Then the neighborhood will find itself in a vicious, endless and expensive killing cycle.”
“We will continue to join locals in urging Lake Vista to employ humane, effective animal-control solutions that residents and wildlife can live with,” she said.
John Falcone, an attorney for the board, said in court Monday the birds had been a problem for years and many tactics had been used to get them to leave to no avail.
He said Tuesday the goal is to thin the population and discourage resident birds, but added it is expected the migratory birds likely would return in some fashion.
In addition to oiling eggs to prevent hatching, the lake use committee has used paintball guns and noisemakers, among other strategies, to try to slim down the population.
The Humane Society of the United States issued a news release Wednesday saying other communities have established humane programs to resolve “conflicts with geese.”
"These win-win types of programs clean lakes, public areas and yards and restore peace within the community,” Lynsey White Dasher, director of humane wildlife conflict resolution for The HSUS, said in the news release. “It is a shame the board is discounting these humane solutions and instead decided to kill sixty-six geese.”
The USDA has said the geese will be sent to processors and used for food at zoos and wildlife rehabilitation centers.
USDA Spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said there were 25 roundups of geese in different locations across Virginia from Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012, the latest date available. The total number of geese removed and put down in that time under the USDA program was 1,767, she said.
“Currently the process is to herd the geese into temporary structures, hand-capture them, and place them in poultry crates,” she said Wednesday. “They are transported to a processing facility where they are harvested and the meat is donated to animal facilities for animal consumption, which is allowed under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services permit.”
Rob Etienne, a member of the board, was against the measure and said Monday after Updike’s ruling he was angry over how the matter was handled. He recently said more than $2,000 was spent to pursue the USDA removal.
Sherman said association dues went up $10 this month and she and others suspect that is paying for the measure, which is upsetting to her.
The issue has drawn reaction from some who live outside Lake Vista.
Becca Harper, practice manager of Animal Emergency & Critical Care in Lynchburg, rallied Tuesday through Facebook to try and save the geese.
She said volunteers had donated crates and offered four ponds and lakes to host the birds.
"We were too little too late," she said Wednesday afternoon.
She is married to a veterinarian and said she knew the geese would be scared when taken away.
"I was devastated and very sad," Harper said. "I think it could have been prevented. There (were) a lot of people who wanted to help."
If another roundup is planned in the future, she said, she would work for a humane solution that would satisfy all parties.
"Hopefully next time we can make a difference," she said.
Staff writer Barrett Mohrmann contributed.
Contact Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5556 or firstname.lastname@example.org.