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N.H. set to chase the wild goose

BRENTWOOD, N.H. -- At the Rockingham County farm, a flock of 40 Canada geese is picking at a lush field of clover. It's September, but these birds have no intention of flying south for the winter.

Canada geese are admired as harbingers of autumn for their V-shaped migrations south. But growing numbers of them, including an estimated 35,000 in New Hampshire, no longer migrate, and are anything but admired.

''When you have 50 to 100 birds outside a residential property, it's too many," said Ed Robinson, a Fish and Game Department biologist.

The resident geese are accustomed to living near people, being fed by them, and bothering them. They honk, sometimes terrify small children, and exasperate farmers, golfers, and park managers by gobbling up grass, leaving only droppings.

''They start honking at 4 o'clock in the morning. They honk all day long. They get on the lawn and they poop so much -- I mean they poop like dogs -- and after a week it stinks real bad," said Ronald Dzuineski, 63.

Dzuineski said geese are fond of a pond about 100 yards from his log home in Pittsburg. They're less fond of the retiree's shock-and-awe techniques.

''I run down there like a crazy man, try to spook 'em, get 'em to fly, but they're just nasty animals. They'll come after you," he said.

Geese mate for life and return to the same place every year to nest, so the key is preventing them from breeding.

Those who've tried it say keeping geese away is a challenge. Neither dogs, nor coyote replicas, nor firecrackers, nor even acting crazy will permanently repel the stubborn fowl. At best, such tactics push a flock onto someone else's land.

Thirty-five years ago, there were a quarter-million resident geese in the United States. Today there are more than 3 million.

Resident geese are a human creation. Their population was supplemented by relocation programs and encouraged by people who feed and shelter them, so they no longer follow their natural cycle of nesting in Canada and migrating with the seasons.

''Because they've been subsidized by humans they've become very, very successful," said Marsha Barden, a biologist with the US Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services.

Migratory birds are federally protected, but there are exceptions for controlling problem populations. The US Fish and Wildlife Service gives permits for rounding up geese, destroying their eggs, and other practices.

The three northern New England states let hunters shoot Canada geese during monthlong hunting seasons in September. The New Hampshire limit is five per day, and hunters get 1,200 to 1,500 each year.

USDA officials in New Hampshire have a permit to round up Canada geese. Barden said the agency is considering grabbing 100 during their flightless season, in June and July, having them slaughtered and butchered, and sending the breast meat to soup kitchens.

A similar program has reduced Virginia's resident Canada goose population by half in eight years, said Martin Lowney, the state's director of USDA Wildlife Services.

''We see this as, we could catch the geese and put them in a landfill, which would be a waste of a food resource," said Lowney.

Or, he said of Virginia's program, ''Is there something positive we can do with the geese?"

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