Northwest NEWS

June 26, 2000

Local News

Concern and frustration grow over increasing goose population

by Bronwyn Wilson, senior staff reporter

   WOODINVILLE--Ahh, summer in Woodinville. Gardens explode in brilliant purples and reds, full of foxglove, lavender, and sweet William. In the skies, hot air balloons hang trance-like in a splash of festive color.

   And at Wilmot Park, children laugh and play while moms spread out picnic lunches and a Canada Goose waddles by.

   Well, several geese. Maybe a gaggle. Actually 95 at a recent morning count. Canada geese are making their home at Wilmot Gateway Park, and their growing numbers are causing frustration to the City and concern by some citizens for their welfare.

   "Wilmot Park was designed for geese. They love green grass and water," Brian Meyer of Woodinville Parks & Recreation Maintenance says.

   For some time no, it has been Meyer's unpleasant task to remove the goose droppings from the park, which accumulates to as much as 40 lbs. per week, sometimes per day, depending on the time of year. According to Meyer, the concentration of goose waste is heaviest by the Sammamish River, but there's also quite an accumulation on the lawn.

   Meyer is concerned because children play in the grass and at the beach area. Not only is the smell unwelcome, but the water quality is affected by the waste, as well as the park's health and cleanliness factor.

   The City of Woodinville has tried a number of measures to discourage the geese, including dogs specially trained to chase the geese away; placement of a barrier fence to prevent geese from coming up the banks; and staff control measures. All proved ineffective.

   With the use of the riverbank for a variety of summer programs, such as concerts, kayaking, and nature classes, the goose population in the park is a growing concern to the City.

   Last year, the City Council authorized the city manager to sign an interlocal agreement for the Waterfowl Management Program. By signing the agreement, the City of Woodinville joined a consortium of area cities and the USDA Wildlife service in cooperative efforts to manage geese populations on a year-round basis.

   The driving factor was the health concern of high fecal coliform counts causing beach closures. Also, the agreement identified several means of goose control, with one viable option being the use of lethal means.

   The procedure to employ lethal goose control by USDA Wildlife Service involves several stages. Upon a City's request, a Wildlife Service representative will visit the site to verify the damage from the geese and that non-lethal measures have proven to be ineffective. Then a round-up date is scheduled when the Wildlife Service will capture the geese by net or by hand. From there, the geese are transported to a processing location where they will be euthanized by means of carbon dioxide gas and processed for donation to food banks.

   The procedure does not set well with Woodinville resident Annie Mays-Mahmood.

   "The carcasses can't be used for food because of the drugs used for sedation," Mays-Mahmood says. "I don't think Woodinville should be in the business of killing Mother Goose."

   She cites a case where Lake Balllinger Golf Course had a problem with geese and the management hired a specially trained person with a dog to keep the geese off the course and, she says, it proved effective. "It didn't fit with their philosophy to kill them," she explains.

   Mays-Mahmood considers herself an advocate for the geese. "I'm an advocate for anyone having a wrong done to them, no matter if it's a goose or a kid," she says. "I was brought up to know the difference between right and wrong. You roll up your sleeves to correct what's wrong. Killing geese is wrong."

   Mays-Mahmood would like to see the City employ non-lethal methods. She suggests community service in scooping up goose droppings. Or, the City could employ a summer work program to help keep the parks enjoyable. She also thinks the goose droppings could be used as a fertilizer and she's looking into this further.

   At any rate, she doesn't buy the City's claim of a health risk to its citizens. She says a Dept. of Public Health official in Seattle told her that a person would have to eat the waste of geese before they'd become contaminated.

   The Canada goose was brought to the Puget Sound area in the 1960s to aid with migration. Increasing urbanization has brought a problem between geese and people.

   Geese are not always friendly, especially when someone gets near the goslings. "Last year, we had some pretty aggressive geese," Meyer says. Although there were no attacks, children were chased by geese.

   Barking dogs shooing geese away hasn't worked, as the geese fly to a nearby beach until the coast is clear, then fly back.

   Addling, a method of spraying the eggs in their nests so they won't hatch, was done by the Wildlife service along the Sammamish River. And still the birds continued to flock to the park.

   Products that will deter geese if it's sprayed on their turf were considered, but the chemicals are harmful to fish and can cause skin irritations to people.

   This has left the City to consider lethal control as a viable option, and the Council is in unanimous agreement that this is a necessary step, since other methods have not proved successful in keeping the geese away.