Geese seen as threat to airports removed from parks, killed
Meat given to food pantries, animal shelters

Margaret Gebhard walks her 14-year-old Rottweiler mix, Bernie, every day around Jackson Park's lagoon.

They love the peaceful park and enjoy watching the Canada geese gliding around the water trailed by half a dozen goslings.

Then, one day last week the geese vanished. They weren't in the lagoon, they weren't on the grass, they weren't picking their way through the wooded area of Jackson Park. A flock of several dozen simply disappeared.

It was the same at Humboldt Park, where Ellen Michalets, who was heading out on a bicycle trip, noticed the large birds were gone. Ditto for Wilson and McGovern parks.

"I enjoy seeing them - they're pecking in the grass, floating in the lagoon," said Gebhard. "It's the one thing that attracts me to the park every day. Now it's like a ghost town."

Jackson, Humboldt, Wilson and McGovern parks happen to be within five miles of either Mitchell International Airport or Lawrence J. Timmerman Field. And anyone who remembers the U.S. Airways flight landing in the Hudson River after Canada geese were sucked into both engines knows how dangerous the birds can be to aircraft.

For the past four or five years, authorities have rounded up all the Canada geese in a few parks near Mitchell and, this year, when wildlife biologists noticed the geese populations had grown at Jackson and McGovern parks, those facilities were added to the list. For airport safety reasons, 190 Canada geese were removed this month from the four parks as well as the Milwaukee Area Technical College campus south of Mitchell Airport and transported to a licensed poultry processing facility, said Charles Lovell, district supervisor with the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services.

The meat from the adult birds was donated to local food pantries after testing for contaminants. Meat from the juvenile birds was donated for food at animal shelters.

"We try to do this as quickly and humanely as possible. Everything is done low profile with minimal disturbance," Lovell said.

Population explosion

Canada geese are rounded up in June when they're molting and unable to fly.

There are two types of Canada geese in Wisconsin - those that migrate through the state in the spring and fall and a resident population that spends most of the year here, said Scott Craven, a University of Wisconsin Extension wildlife specialist. They were rare in Wisconsin in the 1950s and '60s until a small migratory flock arrived in Rock County in the late 1960s. Since then, they've thrived in urban areas where there's no hunting, few predators and perfect living conditions: large green spaces with ponds.

Geese often prefer to stay in one spot, and it's not uncommon for a pair to live to as old as 15. And if they produce five to six goslings a year - do the math. The Department of Natural Resources estimates the resident Canada goose population at around 165,000, a 12% increase from a year ago.

The 8- to 12-pound birds produce a lot of waste, which becomes a problem on sidewalks, golf courses, parks, bodies of water and anywhere else they coexist with humans. They also can be aggressive and noisy.

Noting that Canada geese are a charismatic species that many people care about, Craven said, "It's a contentious thing, but to me it's necessary to somehow manage the population and alleviate the problems they cause."

The USDA rounds up geese only in parks near Milwaukee's airports. At other sites where they're simply a nuisance and not a threat to aircraft, such as golf courses or zoos, other methods to mitigate the population are done first such as oiling eggs and using dogs to scare the birds away.

Airport efforts

Mitchell International Airport employs a full-time USDA wildlife biologist who manages the vegetation at the airport to make it unattractive to wildlife. The biologist also determines if birds are trying to nest and uses firecrackers to scare them, Mitchell spokeswoman Patricia Rowe said.

Since November 1994, six Canada goose strikes have been reported at Mitchell, according to the FAA Wildlife Strike Database. Some bird strikes are not reported, and some reports do not note the type of bird striking a plane. In March 2006, a Frontier Airlines flight in Milwaukee sustained substantial damage when a Canada goose was ingested into one of the engines.

Michalets, who enjoys watching geese in Humboldt Park, called her county supervisor and the DNR last week to ask about the disappearing geese but didn't hear back. She wonders how killing the birds from parks near the airport will make things safer.

"There's so many other geese flying around, I don't think taking care of the geese in the parks is going to take care of anything," Michalets said.


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