JUNE, 2008

USDA rounds up about 70 geese at Park Lake

By Lyn Jerde, Daily Register

PARDEEVILLE — The geese are gone from Park Lake, but they didn't fly away home.

On Thursday, a U.S. Department of Agriculture crew rounded up about 72 Canada geese at the park — putting an end to a situation that both the USDA and village officials characterize as a misunderstanding.

At Tuesday's monthly village board meeting, Pardeeville trustees said they didn't initially get what they bargained for when they signed up for a USDA program designed to eradicate the geese, whose voluminous feces have hampered both the aesthetics and water quality of the lake area.

A divided village board Tuesday voted 5-2 to pay $2,500 to have the geese rounded up this summer, but not to participate in the program in subsequent years.

Village President Barry Pufahl attributed the mix-up to miscommunication.

A year ago, village officials began exploring options for dealing with large flocks of geese at the lake, whose feces were blamed for rising levels of the E. coli bacteria in the water.

A USDA brochure laid out several strategies, one of which was described as a "roundup" of the birds.

According to Pufahl, someone showed up last week wanting to start rounding up the geese — at a time when Pardeeville was in the midst of fighting floods that had closed streets, displaced at least a half-dozen residents and threatened the Fox River dam that forms Park Lake.

That "someone" was Chip Lovell, district supervisor for the USDA's wildlife services, serving the southern half of Wisconsin.

Lovell said village officials had gotten information about the roundup program from sources other than the USDA, and they were informed, incorrectly, that the standard procedure was to round up all the geese immediately.

In fact, the procedure calls for taking just seven of the birds initially, then testing them for mercury, lead or other contaminants that would restrict or preclude their consumption by humans. Then, in the following year, a full-scale roundup takes place, Lovell said.

"When we get the OK," he said, "we send the goose meat to the food pantry of the community's choice."

Public Works Director Dave Tracey said he signed the contract to allow the roundup, because the village board had previously agreed to a program for rounding up geese.

When just seven geese were taken last week, Pufahl said, the discrepancy was discovered between what the village expected and what the roundup program actually entailed.

Pufahl said he and the USDA worked out a deal to allow taking the seven sample geese, then rounding up all the geese, in the same summer.

Pufahl said the contract originally called for rounding up seven geese for testing this year, at a cost of $2,200. That cost was reduced, with negotiation, to $1,900, he said.

And, for an additional $600 — a total of $2,500 — the agreement was again changed so that, in addition to taking the seven geese for testing, all other geese that could be found along Park Lake would also be rounded up, Pufahl said.

Trustee Brian Hepler — who, along with trustee Ernest Wolff, voted against the roundup — said he was concerned about what costs the village might incur for disposal of rounded-up geese if the sample geese turn out to be contaminated.

Lovell said it is very rare for geese rounded up in southern Wisconsin to be unfit for human consumption.

When that happens, he said, the fee that community paid for the roundup would take care of the cost of disposing of the birds' carcasses in a landfill. It actually costs more, he added, to process the geese for meat than to landfill them.

Hepler said he was concerned about how the overall situation was handled.

"I am against taking this any farther," he said. "This is going to be a big fiasco."

Pufahl said he recommended paying the $2,500 for one season's roundup, and being done with the issue once and for all.

And Lovell said the situation in Pardeeville has prompted the USDA's Wisconsin southern district office to, from now on, require any community wishing to enter into a roundup program to have a presentation directly from the USDA, so that local officials understand, up front, what the program entails.

"Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication," he said. "But we worked it out with Pardeeville."