Park geese euthanized to control population
July 23, 2013
By Christina Corrales-Toy
Lake Sammamish State Park visitors will likely notice significantly fewer geese, and as a result fewer geese feces, the next time they visit the park.
Public health concerns over the park’s growing population of geese led state park officials to authorize the killing of about 90 birds, said Virginia Painter, spokeswoman for Washington State Parks.
In the spring, the park had about 300 geese, threatening an overbalance of one species, which could be harmful to both people and the area’s ecology, Painter said.
“In the case of Canada geese, their feces contain a bunch of disease-causing organisms,” she said. “Those organisms are probably in the water and on the beach all over the place anyway, but when you get an overbalance, that’s when people can really get sick from it.”
Goose feces could be carriers of the parasite giardia, which causes a gastrointestinal infection, as well as bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella.
“Exposure to those things on the beach can be dangerous in swimming areas, especially for older people and young children,” Lake Sammamish State Park Manager Rich Benson said.
Animal advocates create petition
Seattle-based nonprofit Action for Animals has started a petition in response to the geese deaths at Lake Sammamish State Park
The online petition implores state officials “to stop the endless cycle of killing and to come up with a focused, well thought out comprehensive plan, which uses humane alternatives.”
It goes on to add that the Lake Sammamish State Park killings show that the geese at all state parks are in danger.
The petition is addressed to Rich Benson, Lake Sammamish State Park manager; Andrew Fielding, Washington State Parks resource steward; and Don Hoch, Washington State Parks director.
Action for Animals works to educate the public about the humane treatment of animals in positive ways. The organization hopes to gather about 1,000 signatures.
The Humane Society of the United States would dismiss those concerns, though, saying on its website that studies do not show that goose feces pose any special health threat. The organization does, however, acknowledge that people should generally avoid contact with animal feces.
Canada geese are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, so when it was decided that euthanasia was the best form of action, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stepped in to carry out the request. The cost to the state, Painter said, was about $1,200.
The federal agencies employed a goose roundup, whereby they gather the geese in an enclosure during a summer period when the birds molt their flight feathers, making them unable to fly, said Ken Gruver, assistant state director for USDA Wildlife Services.
The birds are then placed into a chamber on a truck, and carbon dioxide is released, killing the geese almost instantaneously in a process that is approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, Gruver said.
The Lake Sammamish State Park geese remains were taken to a landfill, Gruver said.
The way Klahanie resident Diane Weinstein sees it, though, the deaths are only a temporary solution for a problem that could be solved through more humane methods.
Benson noted that just days after the 90 or so birds were killed, several more geese appeared at the park, perhaps venturing from across the lake someplace, he said.
“For whatever reason, it seems when dealing with wildlife, the only solution that gets implemented is to kill it,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein, who volunteered with a Seattle group committed to stopping the practice of geese killing more than a decade ago, suggested changing the habitat to keep geese away.
Geese are attracted to large areas of mowed grass, she said, and prefer open sightlines. Reducing the grass area and planting tall vegetation are both preferred alternatives to killing geese, according to the Humane Society of the United States website.
Cleaning goose feces should also be a part of regular park maintenance, Weinstein said.
“There are alternatives,” she said. “You can even have volunteers clean up the beaches and the grassy area.”
The overabundance of geese has been a problem for local parks for about 30 years, Painter said, and during that time, the state has tried a multitude of alternatives to limit their presence.
“Nobody really likes the idea of euthanizing the geese,” Painter said. “There is just no good solution.”
In parks across the state, workers have attempted a technique called egg addling, which works to limit a flock’s growth by putting a hole in an egg so it doesn’t hatch. The Humane Society of the United States suggests egg addling to help control a goose population, but notes that only eggs incubated less than two weeks can be humanely addled.
The state has also tried cardboard cutouts to scare geese away, and have put screens along the edges of lakes to discourage geese access to the water. The screen method would not work at Lake Sammamish State Park, though, Painter said, because of the vast shoreline.
The state has also tried to use education, encouraging visitors not to feed the geese, which makes the park an even more desirable habitat for the birds.
Ultimately, those methods are not very effective, Painter said, leading the state to explore euthanasia.
“The general feeling is if the geese numbers start to get out of control, there really aren’t many options,” she said. “We’ve had to do it in other places just over the years. It’s not like it’s happening all over the state, but it’s kind of a constant issue that land management agencies have to deal with.”
Painter said that the state has received complaints from park visitors across the state, including Lake Sammamish State Park, about the goose feces, and at some point, people just stop going to such places.
Friends of Lake Sammamish State Park board member David Kappler said he felt it was time to do something about the geese, whose feces left the park undesirable for visitors.
“I think it had to happen,” he said. “The goose poop was everywhere. It made the park pretty unfriendly for families.”
Issaquah resident Steve Balkman agreed with that sentiment, saying in a letter to The Press that local and state officials should control the geese not only in the park, but in the city, too.
“For the 24 years I have lived in Issaquah, the geese have been a constant problem,” he said. “The geese and their poop have robbed the people from being able to fully utilize the lake park for decades.”
Weinstein argued that the park was large enough for both humans and geese.
“There are two beaches,” she said. “Can’t we share a little bit with the geese?”