Friday, June 8, 2012

Canada Geese: Myths vs. Fact

Among the misperceptions bandied about in the Ocean County Canada goose debate are unsubstantiated public health claims and statements that so-called resident geese do not migrate.

When directly commenting on whether geese pose a health threat to humans, the leading researchers have already said no.

In 1999, The National Wildlife Health Center studied twelve sites in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states of Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia to determine if organisms that may cause human disease are present in Canada 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 grounds cited by Greenwich, Connecticut in a federal/state application for round up and slaughter were unfounded:
But federal researchers say citing "health concerns" is misleading.
"My feeling is if they want to remove the geese, they should be upfront, be honest with why they don't want them there," said Kathryn Converse, a wildlife disease specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey's Madison, Wisconsin-based National Wildlife Health Center. “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."
Epidemiologist David E. Stallknecht, co- author an April 2005 Centers for Disease Control study of the birds' droppings, agreed:
This is an issue that comes out a lot when people try to do something with wildlife and try to use it as justification," said Stallknecht, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Georgia.

While goose feces, like any animal's feces, contain potentially harmful bacteria, the study found no pathogens in any animals that would be a concern for human disease.

“Goose feces are no more dangerous than other feces, and probably a lot less so than human feces,” said Stalknecht.
Harvard School of Public Health microbiologist Timothy Ford, author of Microbiological Safety of Drinking Water: United States and Global Perspective, 1999, held that geese will never be a major route of Cryptosporidia infection:
Numbers of Cryptosporidium oocysts associated with Canada geese and waterfowl in general are likely to be minimal, unimportant, relative to the potential for oocysts shed from other forms of wildlife and humans. In my mind, there is no possibility that the Canada goose will ever be a major route of infection. To suggest otherwise is utterly ludicrous, and you can quote me.

Likewise, the term “resident” geese is an oversimplification. Many adult and yearling geese engage in late spring migration prior to the molt, when adults temporarily lose primary flight feathers. Scientists say a percentage of Atlantic Flyway resident geese migrate north, many traveling as far as 1200 miles to northern Quebec. The extent of molt migration, say experts, “may be substantial.”
Authorities use peak numbers to justify round-ups during the spring and summer months, when geese come into closer contact with humans. By then, a substantial number of the birds may have already flown north. A percentage of resident geese radio-collared in Connecticut, for example, actually molt in Canada.

Degraded or artificial landscapes and ongoing government and private waterfowl farming programs contribute to the presence of geese in suburbs and cities.

Geese provide an opportunity to put our own species’ well-meaning environmental ethic into practice. There is growing commitment to repair the consequences of unthinking choices; to become ecological stewards of our own clubs, our own public parks and playing fields, and our own backyards.

For some, this will mean foreswearing the quick-fix, be it weed killer or a controversial, lethal goose plan, in favor of natural landscape design and principals.

The cultural and ecological benefits of natural landscapes are legion. Maintenance is significantly reduced. Restoration imbues parks, ponds, and backyards with natural beauty, a diversity of wildlife, plants, butterflies and hummingbirds, reduced dependence on pesticides, water, and fertilizer, and decreased run-off. For parks, there are associated gardening and educational activities, and frank public appreciation for turning bleak acres of astro-turf and macadam into fragrant wildflower meadows and wending paths alive with birdsong and the plants, shrubs and trees that ground our natural ecosystems.

Hailing from Canada, the goose is a distinctly American bird. (Contrary to overzealous “non-native” claims, the goose is distinctly North American.) Self-reliant, loyal, garrulous, brave, highly protective of family, mated for life, the species mirrors our image of ourselves. Hunted to near extinction, reintroduced and deliberately trained to reside in the U.S. for gunning, the bird endures, through no fault of its own, makeshift gas chambers, shooting, and broken necks. courtesy of land managers whose own poor landscaping broadcasts the invitation. We can do better. Unthinking is one thing. Uncaring is another.

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