A gaggle of geese whose droppings befouled the Oakland town beach and boat launch have been rounded up, removed and euthanized, officials said.
Town leaders say they sent the Canada geese off to the state in the hope that the birds could be relocated, but a glut of geese in the state meant they had to be killed, according to state officials.
Oakland Town Manager Peter Nielsen said the town called the Maine office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Service after people complained about the goose waste at the boat launch, a spot on the northernmost edge of Messalonskee Lake that is popular with boaters and swimmers,
“Geese eat a lot so they go to the bathroom a lot,” Nielsen said. “It really does change the character of the place from a spot that’s a pleasant place to be to one that is not.”
Cleaning the area doesn’t solve the problem, Nielsen said, because the geese dirtied it on a daily basis.
The town first tried to solve the problem by frequently shooing the geese away.
Another solution considered and approved by the USDA for emergencies was to kill the eggs by puncturing them with a thin metal probe, shaking each egg forcefully for five to 10 minutes or coating them with sprayed corn oil. That didn’t happen because the nest couldn’t be found. Licensed specialists can also treat goose bait with OvoControl, a chemical agent that prevents membranes from forming inside eggs.
Canada geese are protected under federal and state law and cannot be killed without a license. The USDA’s Wildlife Services is the only agency permitted to use lethal removal.
The USDA’s Marine Wildlife Service deals with all sorts of conflicts between humans and nature — including geese.
On Friday, workers from the town and the agency used kayaks to corral the geese into a pen. Nielsen said there were 18 geese in all, including two sets of parents and some young.
“Once they were in the pen, they were caught individually and placed in a cage,” Nielsen said.
Nielsen said the town’s expectation was that the birds would be tested for disease and then released back into the wild.
“We made it clear we wanted the no-kill option,” Nielsen said.
He was surprised when he learned Monday afternoon that they had been killed, although he said he knew it was a possibility.
“We did surrender them to the state in the hopes things would look a little better for the birds,” he said. “It’s tough when you have people complaining about them.”
Robin Dyer, the state director of the USDA, said the birds were killed after consultation with a regional wildlife biologist from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
“They said we can’t handle any more,” Dyer said. “We get to a carrying capacity when enough is enough.”
Dyer said the agency handles calls from between five and 10 sites each year for goose roundups. It’s a relatively small number of birds, but Dyer said the state’s suitable habitat is already dramatically overburdened with geese.
Oakland’s birds were tested for West Nile virus and other possibly dangerous diseases and were then euthanized using carbon dioxide. Their remains are being composted, Dyer said.
GEESE VS. PEOPLE
Canada geese and people come into conflict often, in part because geese are so adaptable and in part because people maintain appealing goose habitats in the form of lawns.
The geese generally aren’t dangerous — the worst illness their droppings spread is nothing more dangerous than a week-long rash known as swimmer’s itch — but they can be loud, messy and aggressive when they congregate in an area that people want to occupy.
Attacking nests has only limited success, given that adults can live for up to 25 years, but management specialists say people can do a lot to discourage geese from frequenting a particular area.
High on the list is not feeding human food to geese.
Often, the best solution to a goose problem is simply to make a lawn less appealing, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Geese love lawns because there are fresh green shoots to feed on. A large lawn is also ideal for landings and takeoffs. Perhaps most importantly, a lawn feels safe to a goose because it offers a broad view of terrain that makes it almost impossible for a predator to sneak up on it.
Leaving grass long and shaggy can reduce the number of tasty shoots. Landscaping can also be done to ensure geese are never more than 30 feet away from potential predator hiding spots. Vegetation, fences or other barriers can break a lawn up, making the geese uncomfortable enough to move on.
People frighten away geese with noise by shouting, setting off frighteningly loud propane cannons or shooting at them with pistols loaded with blanks and whistle bombs.
Perhaps the most unusual method experts have deployed against Canada geese are laser pointers. Geese, as well as crows and gulls, fly away from the red spot as if it’s a predator, according to a recent study from the National Wildlife Research Center.
In Oakland, the capture method became an option because of the time of year and the relatively small population of troublesome birds.
This is the bird’s molting season, Nielsen said, making it easier for them to catch because it is more difficult for them to fly long distances.
If the birds had been released, this would have made it less likely that they would have found their way back to Messalonskee Lake.
Had the geese been moved, the bill to the town would have been $1,200, but Dyer said that the cost will be less because killing them is cheaper.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287