Activists concerned with goose roundup, slaughter

by Emily Dalnodar

When the Twin Cities needed to reduce the Canada goose population, city officials turned to University goose researcher Jim Cooper.
Since beginning a controversial program that puts adult geese on the tables of underprivileged families, Cooper’s methods have caused concern among some activists and local residents.
In 30 years, the Twin Cities goose population has risen from 450 to 25,000, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Cooper estimates those numbers could soar to 1.5 million by 2020 if measures aren’t taken to curb the population.
Each goose produces four pounds of wet excrement a day, Cooper said. Their droppings not only wreak havoc on landscapes, but cause people to slip and fall.
Local residents and national activists share concerns that the roundup and slaughter of the local goose population is not the best solution. The University’s role in the process particularly ruffles their feathers.
“The whole concept from a biological standpoint is ridiculous,” said Gregg Feigelson, private research scientist and founder of an organization to prevent the destruction of the geese.
New York-based Coalition to Protect Canada Geese claims that tax dollars funding the roundup are wrongly funneled into University programs. Coalition activists also question how the goose management program relates to the role and mission of the University.
After numerous calls from annoyed citizens, municipal governments contact the Department of Natural Resources to control the population. They, in turn, call Cooper, who works under a permit to collect the geese for slaughter.
Cooper captures Canada geese between mid-June and mid-July when they molt their feathers, limiting flight. With a nylon net, he surrounds the flightless birds and walks or swims them into the trap. This summer, he expects to harvest 5,000 geese.
After collection, the Department of Natural Resources relocates the goslings to less-populated areas. They take the adults to a processing plant where they are prepared for consumption by area families in need of food.
Two plants are bidding for the account that the University handles — one in Brainerd, Minn., the other in South Dakota. Each bird costs $11 to process, freeze and deliver to local food shelves. They use the same practice to process the geese for consumption as they do chickens or turkeys, said Cooper. Usually, this involves slitting their throats.
But local citizens argue there are more humane ways to deal with the species. “What does this teach our children? If it’s in our way, we just round it up and kill it? Rounding up and killing the geese is just a short-term fix,” said Linda Hatfield at Friends of Animals and Their Environments.
“Try habitat modification,” Hatfield said. The geese enjoy urban settings because the manicured lawns allow them to watch for predators. Although natural predators don’t dwell in cities, geese don’t know that. Hatfield suggests grasses be allowed to grow longer to stop the geese from nesting.
She also suggests egg replacement programs. When geese lay eggs, it’s possible to destroy them soon after they’re lain and switch them with dummy eggs. Using border collies to scare the geese away has proven effective in some cases as well, she said.
“Really, people think we just came to this option without thinking of anything else,” said Tom Landwehr, a DNR water fowl specialist. He said egg replacement is unrealistic because of the large land area nesting birds cover. His department doesn’t have the staff to effectively find each nest.
He also pointed out that golf courses and cemeteries — two problem areas for goose control — will always have short grass.
Landwehr said sterilization or contraception programs might work, but researchers are still investigating the side effects, including keeping other species away from the devices. This kind of research is done by scientists like Cooper.
“Obviously the University is a research and extension organization,” Cooper said. “We capture the birds under contract with the cities. If programs are going to be put in place, they have to be determined how effective they are. That’s what the University does.”
Feigelson and others find no research value in the roundup of geese and said they believe Cooper is using the opportunity to bring money into the University.
“They think we’re making a tremendous profit,” Cooper said. “The cost just covers salary, mileage and equipment for trapping.”
Officials from the goose protection coalition are trying to obtain records from the University, including cost of roundup, revenues and expenses. They also want Cooper to prove the effectiveness of the program, which has run since 1982. So far they say their demands have not been met.
“The data and documents that this group requested from the University has been turned over to the requester,” said Mark Rotenberg, University general counsel. The Coalition also filed another request for more data last week. Rotenberg said he is responding to these demands as well.
“We’re not out there doing things to geese because we get up in the morning and put black hats on,” Cooper said. “We’re trying to strike a balance. Geese are in conflict with human habitats.”