Tuesday, 11 May 2010

A Modest Proposal

Loons are black and white but the problem of the Canada Geese is not as simple ... and it seems to be one that has the potential to split apart our little lake community.

This lake is a beautiful spot for wildlife and, as a result, for humans too.

Most of the lake is very natural with grasses and bushes near the water line and forest behind that.  At one end of the lake is Betsy's beach with its manicured lawn that could rival a golf course's greens.  This is where all the community parties take place, where the bonfire is built, the barbecues happen, and horse shoes are pitched.  Betsy is generous to the community and she takes great pride in keeping her property beautiful ... and manicured.

And therein lies the problem.

Geese are not like the merganser ducks or the loons or the giant snapping turtles which thrive in secluded spots among reeds and near forested shores.  Geese love lawns.  Not because they offer them superlative food, but because geese feel secure only where they have a clear line of sight so that they can see the approach of enemies.

Betsy's beach is a Canada Goose magnet.

The other day Samuel shot one or two of the Canada Geese leaving only a single mother with about a dozen goslings.  (The exact number changes daily as the mergansers like to nibble on the webby toes of the babies, and pull them under.)

Walter was very upset.  He feels we should share our planet with animals, and he was also concerned because the shooting took place very close to his home.

When I heard about it from Walter, I went on-line to find out about the federal laws governing the hunting of Canada Geese.  One story in particular concerned me.  Last year, an Ontario man was fined $4500 for shooting a migratory bird out of season and within a mile of houses.  I was also concerned by the fact that Natural Resources posts a snitch line number on their site.

Samuel has been living on this lake longer than any of us.  All of us value him as a neighbour, a friend, and a source of local natural wisdom.  No one on the lake would want to see Samuel face that kind of fine for doing a favour for a neighbour.  He had shot the goose or geese at Betsy's request.  She was tired of stepping in goose poop.

I don't like goose poop much either, to be honest.  A grown goose poops about a pound of loose green stool every day in shots that happen every 7 or 8 minutes.  A couple of geese can make an awfully big mess in a very short time.

I guess what bothers me is not that people don't want to have the geese around in their neighbourhood.   That is understandable.  I don't think anyone on the lake would be happy to have a colony of geese living here and polluting the lake.

No.  What bothers me is the automatic assumption that the only way to solve the problem is to kill the geese.

I have asked the secretary of the lake association to bring this matter up at our annual meeting.  She has spoken to the three people concerned ... wisely and openly.  They are investigating the possibility of getting a special licence from the Ministry of Natural Resources to shoot the geese out of season because they are destroying property.  That would solve the problem of Samuel doing something illegal, and would rid Betsy's lawn of goose poop.  Seems like the best solution, right?

I don't think so.  I would rather see us, as a lake association, find an alternative solution, one that protects the cleanliness of the lake, the sensibilities of all lake residents, and the geese.

We are people who love living this close to nature.  Our grandchildren are lucky enough to still be able to hear and see wild life.  We should be protecting wildlife, not killing it simply because it is a nuisance.

Although I just read that goose poop is a wonderful natural fertilizer that could be used in our gardens and placed in our compost bins, I don't think that we should encourage Canada Geese to choose this lake as their new home.

So how do we rid ourselves of Canada Geese in an environmentally sensible, humane way?

We discourage the geese.  We make the lake unattractive as a nesting area.

Geese would find Betsy's lawn far less attractive if she grew some tall grasses close to shore, or if she planted shrubs or anything that would block their view of predators.  She could put flags or other waving things on the lawn if she really needed to keep it manicured.  She could put a sprinkler on the lawn. They hate being sprayed.  Geese also hate coyotes, border collies and other herding dogs, and swans.  We could do what they have done elsewhere where they have twenty or thirty unwanted Canada Goose visitors; we could use decoys.  The coyote ones seem a little over the top to me, but I wouldn't mind a couple of swan decoys floating around the lake.

Kenya keeps the geese away from my shoreline.   I would be willing to take her on a wild goose chase a couple of times a day.

But really the two simplest ways to solve the problem without shooting the geese would be to:
a)     discourage them by making Betsy's beach area less perfect for them by planting shrubs
b)    install a couple of swan decoys in the lake.

Every year we each put $25 in the Lake Association pot and use it for stocking the lake and buying hotdogs and corn for the annual corn roast.  No one ever catches the fish.  We are feeding the loons, mergansers and turtles.  For one year we could buy decoys and shrubs instead of hatchlings.  And for one year we could bring our own food to barbecue together.  And while we are together we could plant the shrubs and grasses.

It is not a problem that should split a community.  It is not a problem that requires rocket scientists to solve.  With a little give and take we could keep our lake Canada Goose poop-free and help preserve a part of a very important natural heritage.


Barbara Carlson said...

I'm assuming you have sent this well-reasoned argument to the Pike Lake association members...?

Good luck.

We now have a pair of Canada Geese on our huge moat (around the swimming pool) in the back of The Highlands condo, so I understand about the shitting problem.The moat is surrounded by well-kept lawns. So far no problem. They look lovely gliding on the moat. They are also fearless with people who walk past them on the pathways.

But one pair was how the Merganser duck population started. By the end of the season there are usually 50 or 60.

But with the Geese around, the smaller ducks seem to be fewer this year...

You say Geese don't like swans. Hmmm. I will let the management know in case we have an infestation. People do like to picnic on the lawns.

Oma said...

Hi Barbara,

I wrote this first and then sent copies off to the secretary and president of the association ... Good luck with your duck and goose problems.

You can really appreciate how much natural habitat is being encroached when you realize that these birds are inhabiting chlorinated water sources in the cities.

Erin Kuhns said...

Post a sign for the geese that says: "You're too far south. Go north!" But be sure to have an arrow pointing in the right direction. Geese aren't as smart as you'd think...

Barbara Carlson said...

No, they are not... our pair of geese (new this year on the moat/pond surrounding the outdoor swimming pool of The Highlands Condo) stood on the vast lawns surrounding the moat -- I know, sounds terribly grand, eh? -- and honked and honked. Since the highrise echoed their noise, they got very excited and annoyed and honked more, looking around expecting to see other geese (intruders?). Too funny. They finally just upped and flew off, perhaps to search the skies.

IrishGirl said...

You are a woman after my own heart.
The Canadian Geese are a problem at one of our waterfronts. The city has hired a Border Collie and his trainer to chase the geese away. He earns $10,000 a year. My Murphy, the Wonder Border, goes down and does the same thing and doesn't get so much as a cookie from the city. Hmmpf. Seriously, it's a joy to watch the lady work with her Border. They are amazing.
Now the city does some of the same things you suggest, like the tall grasses, and the problem seems better to us.
It's a further pity they killed the other geese because we have watched them at our park and the group all help protect and look after the young. And to do it when there are young? Not to mention someone shooting a gun where there are active cottagers. It does rather sound like a situation out of hand.
Okay, I'll do like you and attempt to make my next comment more bland.
But since peri-menopause has kicked in, I can't make any promises.

Oma said...

Maybe I had a jolt of leftover hormones which would explain my decision to put myself on the firing line!

Glad to hear that the tall grasses seemed to help ... will pass that on at the meeting.