WASHINGTON – They tried border collies in Virginia. They tried a stuffed coyote in New Jersey. In fact, officials nationwide have tried just about everything to get rid of large flocks of Canada geese that move in, eat the grass and leave lots of unwanted poop.
Until now, geese foes have had to obtain permits from the government to kill the geese or destroy their nests and eggs, and that hasn't been easy. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a new rule making it easier for farmers, airports, landowners and public health officials to kill the geese without permits.
The new rule went into effect last week.
Animal rights activists say there's got to be a better way to deal with the birds.
But people who consider the geese a nuisance are applauding the measure. Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., who has been working to control the geese population for years, said, "This day has been a long time in coming."
"Canada geese are larger and more aggressive than native waterfowl," Saxton said. "They have upset the natural ecology of our waterways."
The new rule includes several provisions, which now allow:
—Airports, public health officials and landowners to destroy nests and eggs without federal permits.
—Private and public airports to round up the birds for destruction without federal permits.
—Local governments to round up the birds if they threaten public health by congregating at reservoirs, athletic fields, parks and public beaches.
The new rule also allows states to establish August hunting seasons for the birds. The existing hunting season is Sept. 1 to March 10.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said the rule was prompted in response to "growing impacts from overabundant populations of resident Canada geese." The agency said in the Atlantic Flyway that the resident Canada goose population has increased an average of 2 percent per year over the past four years and was estimated at 1.15 million this past spring.
"This final rule offers the essential flexibility needed for effective natural resource management," Service Director Dale Hall said in a statement.
John Hadidian, urban wildlife program director for The Humane Society of the United States, said the Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to bring down the resident Canada goose population by 1 million birds.
"That means killing that many birds every year, for the next 10 years," Hadidian said. "That's appalling."
The Human Society says the reason so many would have to be killed to reduce the population is because on average, a goose will have five eggs at a time in a nest, which take about a month to incubate. And if a nest is destroyed, a female goose often will simply lay another group of eggs.
Hadidian said communities have resorted to various measures to get rid of the birds, ranging from sterilizing eggs or destroying nests to rounding up the birds when they are molting and unable to fly and taking them to commercial poultry houses where they are killed.
He said the new rule destroys any way for his organization and others to keep track of how the geese are being eliminated. The Humane Society favors measures that would create places where the birds can migrate to without being a nuisance to humans.
"They are very smart birds and they learn right away where they are and are not tolerated," Hadidian said.
The geese are attracted to mowed and fertilized grass, which is why they tend to gather at golf courses, airports and parks. Businesses or communities inundated by geese either call companies like National Goose Control in East Hanover, N.J., to help them gain permits so eggs and nests can be destroyed, or they resort to other measures.
In Saltville, Va., two border collies named Annie and Risk, were unleashed to run off the geese. That worked. In Fair Lawn, N.J., officials put a stuffed coyote on a float in a municipal pool hoping to scare off the geese. The coyote was snatched, and the geese stayed mum.