R.I. Looks for Some Peace from Geese

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRINews staff

Think of Canada geese as mini-lawnmowers eating about 4 pounds of grass and other vegetation a day. And like lawnmowers, geese are highly polluting. Instead of toxic fumes, these gluttons dump more than a pound of poop each day.

Fortunately, relief is available for Rhode Island's growing goose problem. Conservation groups are offering geese abatement plans, as well as financing, to humanely control the state's goose population. These groups are reaching out to land trusts, farmers and other large property owners to help.

At three seminars held across the state Feb. 21-23, conservation experts presented the local history and solutions for curtailing geese, along with goose horror stories from residents.

Much of the Canada geese problem began in the 1950s, when the state Division of Fish and Wildlife established a resident goose population at the Great Swamp Management Area in West Kingston. Hunters and environmentalists also used decoys and other techniques to encourage migrating geese to nest full time in Rhode Island. A lack of natural predators and fewer hunters allowed the population to multiply rapidly. 

By the mid-1990s, there were 4,000 resident Canada geese across the state. Their numbers today are estimated between 5,000-10,000 and are causing widespread damage to land and water. 

Currently, Rhode Island, and much of the Northeast, has two kinds of geese: resident and migratory. Both look identical and, in fact, share the same DNA. However, resident geese don't fly south for the winter. They nest locally and cause year-round damage to grass-covered areas and crops.

Geese feast on short grass, in particular, making suburban and urban open spaces popular for grazing. Crops, especially corn shoots, get ravaged. The bacteria from goose droppings contributes to nutrient loading of shellfish beds and drinking water — all of which leads to beach closings, fishing restrictions, algae blooms and tainted drinking water.

"I've gone to places where you literally can't find a square inch without a (goose) dropping on it," said Jessica Blackledge, of the Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District, during a recent workshop at the Portsmouth Free Public Library.

Canada geese are largely protected from intentional harm, but they can be hunted seasonally with a proper permit. Some of the following abatement techniques can be employed with help from the state conservation districts and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). These techniques are backed by the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and considered humane by groups such as PETA.

Modify habitat. Allow grass to grow to full height to discourage feeding. Install a grid system of low wires or fencing between water areas and lawns.

Scaring devices such as mylar tape, balloons, flags, noisemakers, and owl and coyote decoys.

Capture and removal of geese.

Destroying eggs with oil using the GeesePeace method (pdf).

The NRCS, which has an office in Warwick, is already working with local land trusts, including the Aquidneck Land Trust. It also offers programs for wetlands restoration and invasive plant removal for species such as phragmites. For more information, contact Gary Casabona at gary.casabona@ri.usda.gov or 401-822-8837.

Training for the GeesePeace egg oiling method will be held at locations in Rhode Island's three conservation districts in early March. For more information, call or e-mail Jessica Blackledge at 401-816-5667 or info@easternriconservation.org.