Public persuades golf club to let geese play through

Canadian geese may be beautiful, but they can have a negative effect on land in large numbers. Pexels

Vermont’s hunting season for Canada geese began this past week, and a local golf club planned to take advantage by culling an unwelcome gaggle.

But the Quechee Club, which runs two golf courses, capitulated after animal rights groups and local residents pelted the club with social media messages and calls pleading for a more humane solution.

“It was so upsetting to hear,” said Maureen Bacon, a property owner who received an email from the club warning residents that they might hear gunfire. Bacon and her husband own property at the Quechee Club, an exclusive, 5,500-acre residential development with ski slopes, tennis courts and two golf courses in Hartford, Vt.

According to the email, which was reviewed by the New York Times, culling the population each year was necessary because the growing population of resident geese would “become a nuisance and a health hazard with their droppings on the courses.”

Such hunts are not unprecedented, but they can be unpopular. Bacon was so alarmed, she reached out to a reporter at The Valley News, a newspaper in nearby West Lebanon, N.H.

Three days after the newspaper published its first article, the club’s property manager, Ken Lallier, said the hunt had been “postponed.”

“We’ve looked at a variety of options and we’re going to look at all of them again,” he said. Several calls to the club were not immediately returned.

Even if some of the birds had been shot, others would return, said David Feld, who runs GeesePeace, a nonprofit that provides training and education for cities and towns struggling to coexist with their avian neighbors.

“This is so divisive in communities,” said Feld, a retired systems engineer who was inspired to form the organization in 2000 after his hometown, Lake Barcroft, Va., “almost broke apart” over its dealings with geese.

Unlike their migratory brethren, which still commute south from Canada in the fall, resident geese are a man-made problem, Feld said. Before the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which protects the species to this day, market hunters bred the birds as live bait to hunt migrating geese. But when geese born in captivity were released into the wild, they became trapped because they are biologically programmed to nest in the area where they are born, he said.

The population later dwindled, and in the 1960s and ’70s, state and federal agencies enacted programs like Operation Mother Goose, which carefully relocated fragile nests and eggs, sometimes by helicopter, to safer habitats.

By the 1980s and ’90s, however, large numbers of geese were causing havoc in towns and cities, Feld said, especially at places like golf courses, which offer tidy lakes for safety and a buffet of manicured grass for grazing.

It is tempting to shoot the birds, he said, because “a dead goose is not a pooping goose.” An adult can excrete a pound a day.

For the last two decades, Feld and his organization have worked with the Humane Society and other groups to develop methods that stabilize the population, sometimes by coating eggs in corn oil, which cuts the flow of oxygen through the shell.

“They will leave if they don’t have goslings,” Feld said, and, most important, “if people don’t feed them.”

Another tactic to make the birds less comfortable: drive a Border collie around a lake in a motorboat.

Over the years, Feld has seen a lot of scam solutions for geese problems, like a plastic alligator with blinking red eyes, which might “scare a person.”

Some towns have resorted to other methods. This summer, more than 1,600 geese were rounded up in Denver and fed to families in need, according to The Denver Post.

Louis Porter, the commissioner of Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Department, said that it was not uncommon for golf clubs to invite hunters onto their property, but that he could not confirm whether the Quechee Club had conducted such a hunt before.

Vermont’s resident goose population has increased significantly since the early 1990s, according to data from the department.

“When they congregate into larger and larger numbers,” Porter said, “they can have an impact on farmers’ fields and on golf courses and on the environment itself.”

Fish and wildlife agencies at the state and federal levels have a “contradictory role,” he said, to “make sure that wildlife populations are healthy and abundant” while also “managing those populations.”

Hunting “is an essential tool for us to manage wildlife populations,” he added.

Vermont sets strict guidelines in coordination with the Atlantic Flyway Council, which limits the length of hunting seasons and the number of geese a person is allowed to shoot, he said.

Nevertheless, some are averse to the practice.

The Green Mountain Animal Defenders, a statewide volunteer-run organization, rallied people on social media to pressure the Quechee Club not to hunt the birds.

Sharon MacNair, the organization’s president, wrote in an email that the group “commends the club for their willingness to now explore long-term, humane methods.”

“We are consulting with wildlife rehabilitators, biologists and other experts to gather the best nonlethal options to share with the Quechee Club, should they decide to implement this approach,” she added.

A call to the Hartford town manager, Brannon Godfrey, was not immediately returned.

“People don’t need to fight,” said Feld of GeesePeace, who has not had any involvement in the Vermont controversy.

“There’s plenty of places that geese can go that nobody cares,” he said.

New York Times

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