Lawrence Harmon

Canada geese have got to go

By Lawrence Harmon
Globe Columnist / May 21, 2011

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ABOUT A dozen troublemakers paced the perimeter of the Franklin Park Golf Course in Dorchester, confident that no one would challenge them. Who would be so foolish, especially if they treasured their footwear? Each member of the “branta canadensis’’ gang, after all, is capable of producing upwards of a pound of droppings per day.

There are few things more stirring in nature than the sight of migratory geese as they cross the sky in V-shaped formation. But their nonmigratory cousins — the resident Canada geese — are a nuisance. Golf courses, athletic fields, and walking paths in and around the city are slick with goose excrement. The geese degrade water quality and cause erosion as they eat and trample vegetation along the slopes of lakes. Flying cows and lawn carp are among the kinder descriptions of the year-round Canada geese.

The geese have got to go. Not webbed-feet first, necessarily. But they don’t belong in urban environments. With few natural predators and a flair for reproduction, the nonmigratory Canada geese population in the United States has jumped from 230,000 in 1970 to 3.8 million in 2009, according to the US Department of Agriculture. In cities and suburbs, humans try everything from pyrotechnics to border collies to uproot the geese. But the birds, which can live to age 20, rarely wander more than a few miles from their birthplace.

Massachusetts residents refuse to stiffen their spines against these pests. Not only do we abide them, but we make trouble for other states that are ready to take action.The economy of the small city of Delafield, Wisconsin, revolves around the 1,000-acre Lake Nagawicka. Canada geese are fouling the water and nearby properties to the point that Mayor Ed McAleer has sought permission from federal wildlife officials to net and euthanize the flock. It didn’t take long for goose defenders, led by Keith Lanni of Plainville, Mass., to catch wind of the culling plan. More than 600 people — some from as far away as Finland — have signed Lanni’s petition to stop “the massacre of thousands of innocent Canada geese’’ in Delafield.

McAleer isn’t a bloodthirsty savage. He has tried Humane Society-approved measures, such as spraying corn oil on the goose eggs, which prevents air from passing through the shells. Properly done, this method of destroying an egg’s viability can be 95 percent effective. But nests aren’t always easy to locate.

It would be a win-win, said McAleer, to euthanize the birds and donate their meat to homeless shelters and food pantries. That’s a reasonable solution, provided the birds are killed in a quick and humane manner — such as a carbon dioxide chamber — approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Lanni objects. He says he can discern distinct goose personalities and derives great pleasure from observing and feeding the birds. It’s especially cruel, Lanni said, to capture and euthanize the birds during the early summer molting season when they are defenseless. Relocation, fencing, and other nonlethal measures are sufficient to control the birds, he insisted.

Lanni doesn’t come across like a wild-eyed extremist who can’t differentiate between a bird and a person. But most people in the city don’t derive similar enjoyment from the geese. Greenspace is at a premium in and around Boston, and it’s not fair to people who seek occasional respite at the Esplanade, Jamaica Pond, and other natural areas to be forced to dance around goose poop or scan the ground for a rare, unsullied spot to lay a blanket.

Ideally, the birds could be relocated to central or western Massachusetts where hunters appreciate them (albeit baked in a sweet brandy sauce). Wisely, the state has extended the goose hunting season to 107 days. But Massachusetts foolishly prohibits the relocation of nuisance wildlife. That policy needs to change. The geese should be gathered from athletic fields, bike paths, and other recreation areas and trucked to more remote parts of the state. It’s not foolproof, however. Many of the birds would find their way back to their birthplaces in the city, according to Timothy Cozine, a USDA wildlife biologist.

Resident Canada geese deserve a fighting chance to find an out-of-the-way home. But they shouldn’t be given free rein to foul the city’s best recreation areas. These places are meant to provide respite to people, not fill the bellies of upland grazers.

Lawrence Harmon can be reached at