Geese overstay welcome at City Park

August 20, 1997


Staff Writer

They're called Canada geese, but Canadian they're not.

In fact, they're much more likely to flock in Hagerstown's City Park and anywhere else where there is a lake, an abundance of grass and other food, and no threat of being hunted.

"These are birds that couldn't find Canada on the best day of their lives," said Les Terry, Maryland director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Service.

And they like it here - so much so that their presence is an ongoing headache for city officials, who soon will decide the best way to reduce and control the park's goose population.


Public Works Manager Doug Stull is expected next month to present to the city Parks Board options that include shaking eggs, which prevents them from hatching, and prohibiting people from feeding waterfowl at the park.

"I know that's not popular, but we are creating our own problem by feeding them, and they know this is the place to eat," he said.

The goal is to cut by at least half a goose population of around 300, Stull said.

"I think we can manage that number," he said.

The geese problem goes back nearly 100 years, when trained, nonmigratory geese were brought from the Midwest to the East Coast by hunters and used as live decoys to attract wild, migratory geese, said Larry Hindman, waterfowl project manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Live decoys were outlawed in 1935, but the nonmigratory geese stayed, reproduced and began making their homes in areas like City Park Lake, he said.

"These geese in Hagerstown are not geese that decided not to go back to Canada," Hindman said.

They have no reason to leave, he said. With plenty of food and water, and no enemies to worry about, places like City Park provide a perfect home for geese to live and multiply.

"They've basically got it made, and that's why they are not going anywhere," Hindman said.

Golf courses also have provided an ideal habitat for geese, and the fowl have been known to agitate groundskeepers by feeding on the short grass near putting greens and leaving their droppings behind.

"It does make a mess sometimes," said John Kain, superintendent at Black Rock Golf Course.

Jefferson County, W.Va., extension agent Craig Yohn said he has seen geese picking at soybean fields, but he hasn't heard of widespread complaints about the birds.

Wildlife officials said an overabundance of waterfowl is more of a nuisance than a public health hazard, but concerns about bacteria and disease from goose droppings is prompting Hagerstown to test the water quality of City Park Lake this fall, Stull said.

He said feces building up on the walkways and park equipment could be hazardous to children and to people with respiratory problems.

"Kids have a tendency to drop something on the ground and put in back in their mouths. Nothing has happened, but I don't want it to happen," he said.

Stull said geese also tear up plants and cause erosion problems.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a popular way to address the goose problem was to capture the birds and ship them to the southern part of the United States, Terry said.

"It was a quick fix. It got rid of the problem for about a year, but other birds found the vacant space and filled in," he said.

Twice in recent years Hagerstown tried to export its goose problem by trucking the birds away from the area, Stull said. He said, however, many of the birds quickly found their way "home."

He cited one such trip to drop off the geese near the Monongahela River.

"They beat the truck back to Hagerstown," Stull said.

The city has had more success planting in the park junipers and other greenery that are intended to discourage geese, he said. There are plans to plant more in the future.

Stull said the city could use a grape-extract spray and cayenne pepper to keep the geese away. Wildlife experts said other methods to combat geese include harassing noises, fireworks, fountains and using border collies to chase the birds.

In Frederick, Md., an overabundance of ducks at Culler Lake in Baker Park led to the passage of an ordinance that bans people from feeding the city's waterfowl.

That action, combined with the removal of about half the lake's ducks in July, has put the city fairly close to its total of 300 waterfowl in the lake, said Russ Castle, supervisor of streets and parks for Frederick.

Hindman said the goose population has gotten so large in some parts of the country that the geese were killed and their meat was donated to local food banks.

"There are a variety of ways of (controlling the problem), and some are acceptable to the public and some are not acceptable to the public," he said.

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