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When The Goose Poop Hits The Fan

If you thought the recent school budget and board elections were contentious, you haven’t been paying attention to the geese.

Or more precisely, what can be done about the myriad geese, their feces and more feces that blanket our green spaces and schoolyards.

For years, the area’s Canadian goose population has been growing, with the geese proving better at multiplication than a high school math club. Where once it was charming to see an occasional pair poking around the grass, now, when walking through the park, most of us don’t even bother watching where we step, and long ago gave up cursing the digestive system of the Branta Canadensis.

Property owners and municipalities have used all sorts of clever and kooky ways to combat the birds. Common approaches include people in kayaks and border collies trying to prove to the geese that a particular spot is inhospitable, as well as wildlife experts and trained volunteers who rub oil on the birds’ eggs so they don’t hatch. But still, each year, the population seems to goose up another notch.

The Town of North Hempstead estimates that cleaning up goose poop in town parks costs taxpayers 2,700 man-hours each year. And it still isn’t enough, said spokesperson Ryan Mulholland. As a result, town officials have been looking at various options. Among them, rounding up the geese, and have them euthanized and processed to feed the poor. Similar programs have worked around area airports and various South Shore parks. But when the town board recently voted to reserve that option, feathers flew.

Goose-lovers came out in force against killing the birds, and like other town officials, Supervisor Jon Kaiman struck a conciliatory note, stressing that he was open to all options.

In an area that has a world-famous no-kill animal shelter (Port Washington’s North Shore Animal League), it’s hard to believe that the local government will adopt anything but a no-kill goose policy. After all, what politician wants to campaign while animal-lovers remind voters of the goose blood on the candidate’s hands?

It is much the same around the country, says Jim Sterba, author of Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds. Animals that once were on the brink of extinction — whitetail deer, beaver, coyote and yes, Canadian geese — are now so numerous that they (and often their feces) are problems.

It’s conservation that brought these species back, and killing them somehow seems antithetical to this ethos.

Also, as Sterba points out, so many Americans see the wild critters in our midst as free-ranging pets. And we don’t kill pets.

The result: the animals’ numbers aren’t “managed” in any meaningful way.

“No one is essentially managing these creatures,” says Sterba, “except maybe our cars.”

Wildlife management must go beyond roadkill, he says. Sitting by, doing little and letting the animals and the problems associated with them grow uncontrollably is not a responsible solution.

“We have an obligation to manage our ecosystem for all of its inhabitants — the plants, the animals and the people. And to do that, we may have to eliminate overabundant species. That might mean culling deer or geese,” he says. “Your kid’s soccer field was built for your kid, not for 500 Canada geese. And if the geese make it unplayable, then maybe we should think about who that soccer field was built for in the first place.”

Pity the politicians who follow Sterba’s thinking.