Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 08/30/06
BY SUSAN RUSSELL
In response to the Aug. 25 article "Canada geese blamed for swimming bans at Shore lakes." In nature, no creature, especially man, exists in a vacuum. Results will follow cause.
Canada geese respond to injurious human landscaping practices and government and private waterfowl restocking programs. The leading federal researchers agree: The birds pose no human health threat.
The facts beg one question: When our actions, appetites or whims have consequences for other species, how should we respond?
Landscaping. Simple landscapes — mowed turf grass near water, open vistas — play havoc with the Canada geese's migratory and nesting instincts. Protective parents seek clear, line-of-sight vistas that allow for ready identification of predators.
The local park/pond/playground combo and the home association's manicured pond are neon vacancy signs for nesting geese. The ecological hitch: These structurally simple landscapes are not indigenous to the Northeast. Scientists say that nesting geese are an ecological symptom, not the disease. Denuded of native vegetation and wildlife, poorly landscaped parks are the biological equivalent of an indoor swimming pool.
Experts advise that natural landscaping is the answer. "Geese, like other waterfowl, are attracted to habitats that meet their basic needs," notes Transport Canada. "Habitat modification is the best overall approach to long-term bird control."
"Communities that no longer enjoy the company of geese need to withdraw their invitation," writes the Delaware Riverkeeper. "Anger, stone throwing, scare tactics, use of dogs and egg addling are neither the right nor the most effective response. The most effective, sustainable and cost beneficial way to force geese to move on, to continue their migration, is to revegetate our stream banks and shorelines."
Ecological restoration can reduce pesticide dependence, improve immediate soil, air and water quality, promote a desired natural aesthetic, and restore habitat for humans and wildlife.
Diagrammed habitat modification guides provide managers with practical principles for landscape restoration. Limited restoration improves and beautifies landscapes for many species, including humans. Modification for geese means blocking vistas by strategic placement of shrubs, grasses, wildflowers, gates, fences, natural barriers and replanting banks.
Health. In 1999, the National Wildlife Health Center studied 12 sites in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia to determine if organisms that may cause human disease are present in goose feces. The federal researchers reported:
Low frequency of positive cultures indicate that risk to humans of disease through contact with Canada geese feces appeared to be minimal at the four sites in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia during the summer and early fall of 1999.
In May 2005, Kathryn Converse, lead author of the study, told The Greenwich Time that health claims are unfounded: "My feeling is if they want to remove the geese, they should be upfront, honest with why they don't want them there. I personally have never seen an article through a medical journal or the Centers for
Disease Control that linked an episode of human health to Canada geese."
The New Jersey Department of Health wrote, "A number of beach closings, including several in New Jersey, have been attributed to this cause (high fecal coliform counts attributed to Canada geese). However, research on this subject (including some surveillance conducted in New Jersey) has usually found very low levels of pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella sp. in the feces of waterfowl not exposed to human sewage effluent."
Goose farming. Conflicts between ongoing federal breeding programs to support shooting and suburban sprawl need to be addressed. Public or private "waterfowl production areas" at wildlife refuges and shooting preserves are a wellspring for greater numbers of geese seen locally and statewide.
The upshot, as demonstrated from Maryland to New Jersey to Illinois, is that farmed geese, raised as livestock, leave refuges, only to arrive at parks, farms or golf courses where they are not wanted. And where they are often killed as pests.
If appropriate landscape restoration is essential, education fostering respect and appreciation for native wildlife is equally so. Both begin to reconcile society's stated ecological concerns with our actions, particularly in our own back yard. Most people already live peaceably with Canada geese.
A true ecological ethic transcends farming wildlife for commercial gunning, and means more than the self-interest of purchasing green cleaning products. This is especially true on the heels of deer and goose management debacles, for which deer and geese pay the highest price.
Facts, not ignorance, should contribute to a wider understanding and a fully informed response to wildlife buffeted by both management and sprawl.
Susan Russell, Little Silver, was a lobbyist for New Jersey's laws banning steel-jaw traps and the importation of wild, exotic birds for the pet trade.