Boston City Council Pushes for Mitigation of Canada Geese

By Beth Treffeisen

Canada Geese that flout long black necks and white cheek markings are plaguing Boston’s multiple parks and fields around the city. The growing population continues to litter the grass, walkways and docks with unwanted droppings, causing many public spaces to be left unpleasant and even unwelcoming to residents.

In an effort to fix this problem, City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George raised the issue at last week’s Boston City Council Meeting, stating it as a quality of life issue that needs to be resolved.

The other city councilors agreed, passing it onto the Committee of Parks, Recreation and Transportation. The City Council hearing about the mitigation of Canada Geese will be held on October 11, at 1pm at City Hall.

“The geese impact us all,” said Councilor Essaibi-George. “Whether it’s kids playing soccer on Franklin Field or people cleaning goose droppings from their dogs paws or even a city spending millions to correct the environmental impact of the geese on a pond in Brighton.”

The order states that a single goose can consume up to four pounds of grass per day and produce as much as three pounds of fecal matter every day.

Canada geese are often territorial and aggressive, especially while protecting goslings. Adult geese can violently chase other wildlife, children and small adults, hissing and even slapping and biting.

This waterfowl has no natural predators that have allowed the problem to grow exponentially throughout the city.

“I have, at least for the last year, year and half have been hearing from my constituents particularly of the Fenway, the problems the menace, caused by these geese,” said Councilor Josh Zakim at the City Council Meeting. “Some constituents have proposed somewhat extreme measures but I think it is important that we address this.”

Councilor Zakim stated that the city has already spent millions of dollars to go towards the parks department each year and that it is important to make sure that the parks are safe and clean.

Both Councilor Zakim and Councilor Matt O’Malley agreed to include off-leash dog parks in this solution.

“I think it really does address a major quality of life issue in many of our neighborhoods,” said Councilor Zakim. “I think it’s something I would be happy to be talking about with my constituents and neighborhoods and facilitating suggestions – hopefully on the more humane side of things than some of the others that I’ve heard in passing – but this is high-time that we address this issue.”

Marie Fukuda, a board member at the Fenway Civic Association, gardener and 30-year resident of the neighborhood said that she is routinely asked about efforts to control goose populations in the Back Bay Fens.

Since Canada geese still have some protected measures under federal law there are limited means to controlling the population such as oiling the eggs that are found in the area.

“What is undeniable is that they negatively impact people who want to use parkland, and that their growing presence has cut down on the amount of park that people can enjoy in the Back Bay Fens and the ways in which they can enjoy it,” wrote Fukuda in e-mail.

Fukuda added that the feces that the birds drop carry a number of pathogens including E. Coli, campylobacter, and other bacteria.

There are two different populations of Canada geese in Massachusetts, according to a handout by the state’s Division of Fisheries & Wildlife. The first is the migratory population that passes through in the spring and fall and the other is the resident population that stem from descendants of captive geese used by waterfowl hunters.

Many captive birds were released into the wild in the 1930s after live decoys were outlawed. With no pattern of migration, these geese began nesting that was followed by a population explosion.

Geese in urban areas, according to MassWildlife tend to live twice as long as those in more rural areas.

Councilor Essaibi-George stated that the U.S. National Park Service has already acted to protect pedestrians, mitigate damage to Washington Mall’s natural resources, and prevent a potential public health hazard by using border collies that “haze” but do not harm the geese.

Here in Boston, the Esplanade Association and the Friends of the Public Garden already use similar methods to address the problem.

“In partnership with the Parks Department, we already employ GooseBusters, a company that uses trained Border Collies with a handler,” wrote Susan Abell the director of communications of Friends of the Public Garden in e-mail.

“The dogs have been the most effective and humane goose control solution, but nothing is perfect,” Abell continued. “We support a humane city-wide effort to reduce the negative impact of the geese and their droppings in city parks.”

The Executive Director, Liz Vizza of Friends of the Public Garden will be talking at the City Council hearing about this issue on October 11.

The Esplanade Association has been working to mitigate the problem for years now when they hired Geese Police, another Border Collie company whose methods are endorsed by the PETA and the Humane Society in 2005.

“They see the geese as a predator and than they fly away,” said Elliot Oren the owner of Geese Police.

Oren and his dogs cover the Esplanade two times a day and sometimes they come out at night.

Over the years he said he has seen some improvement but the park is three miles long and runs along a riverbed, making it a prime spot for the geese.

“It’s not good to have the droppings build up,” said Oren that believes it is not super dangerous but people can get sick if they put a water bottle down and might accidentally ingest it.

“Anyone who lives in Boston knows it’s a problem,” Oren continued.

More recently, the Esplanade Association have placed four Geese Beacons that are black and orange canisters located at the Eliot Memorial and the Teddy Eversol Red Sox Fields beginning in September 2014.

The solar-powered, amber colored light at night mimics the reflection of light in a predator’s eyes that frightens the geese enough that they move their nests to an area that they consider to be safer. Fewer nests mean fewer geese during the day.

But, Oren said, “It’s not going to get any better until we break the nesting pattern. Otherwise, these geese are just going to keep coming back.”

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