The Philadelphia Inquirer recently ran a news article
geese take a bite out of farm profits."
In the piece, which featured the Farm Bureau and a farmer who is a member of
the New Jersey Fish and Game Council, detractors called the birds "vermin,"
"dirty," "nuisance," and much more. Predictably, they called for more
The Philadelphia Inquirer has now published APLNJ Wildlife
Policy Director Susan Russell's response. The text is below.
By Susan Russell
Nature writer and biologist Bernd Heinrich wrote of the gentle
temperament of Peep, a Canada goose he studied from gosling to adult
stage. "The one word that described her character ... was sweetness
- she grew up to be reticent, but she never showed a sign of fear."
Living near Canada geese for most of my adult life, I've seen
individuals grieve at the loss of a devoted mate, and remain alone, for
years. When treated with kindness, geese are gentle, even when wounded
or tangled in fishing line. They will seek out trusted humans for
protection, assistance, or simple companionship. Their affinity for
humans, often their undoing, is as real as it is misplaced.
Hunted to the brink of extinction, re-stocked for more hunting, and now
gassed, the Canada goose is dismissed as "vermin" by hunting and farming
interests. Predictably, they call for more killing.
The resident Canada goose, ostensibly protected under the Migratory Bird
Treaty Act, finds refuge nowhere. Federal rules make it easier to kill
geese or destroy their eggs and nests at parks, golf courses, airports,
and farms. Farmers already obtain free permits to do all of the above on
In addition to regular, migratory, and resident goose-hunting seasons,
"special" September seasons for resident geese allow unplugged shotguns,
electronic calls, shooting after dark, and 15-geese-per-day kill limits.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's
Wildlife Services gases geese throughout the Northeast.
By the mid-1950s, hunting had decimated the giant Canada goose. Wildlife
agencies and private cooperators restocked geese at private shooting
preserves, national wildlife refuges and wildlife management areas. In
the Central Flyway, "more than 120,000 geese were handled for
restoration purposes between 1960 and 1999."
At Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge, managers pinioned and tethered
adult geese as live decoys, luring migratory geese to waterfowl
production areas. The birds abandoned migratory behavior and were the
progenitors of today's resident geese. In 1985, Cornell University
reported that over the years, birds genetically inclined to travel
greater distances south may have been steadily removed from the
population - by hunters.
In 2012, U.S. hunters killed 15.7 million ducks, 3.1 million geese, and
14.4 million mourning doves. The figures do not include "crippling
losses," or unretrieved hits, which researchers say range from 20 to 40
percent of all ducks hit by gunfire.
To supply hunters, federal and state agencies farm ducks and geese
annually. "Waterfowl production areas" at national wildlife refuges and
elsewhere trap natural predators and provide feeding areas, farm crops,
and optimal breeding, nesting, and resting conditions, adding to the
number of Canada geese in the Northeast. Geese leave refuges, where they
are hunted, only to arrive at parks, golf courses, or farms where they
are not wanted - and are often killed as pests.
The federal Agricultural Research Service recommends seasonal flooding
of farm fields to attract waterfowl. "Farmers benefit," says the USDA,
as "reapers of waterfowl harvest, and by receipt of hunting fees for use
of their land."
In South Jersey, the USDA's Resource Conservation and Development
Council encourages farmers to alter acreage for white-tailed deer,
geese, and ducks. For Canada geese, the council suggests planting
"70-90" acres of grain and providing "10-30 acres of wetland." Fee
hunting potential for Canada geese is "$100-$200 per person per day."
This as the Farm Bureau lobbies for more killing to "control" geese.
Paid by public and private kill contracts, the USDA's Wildlife Services
has a strong financial incentive to maximize supposed threats caused by
wildlife. Herons and egrets are "pests." Frogs and toads, says Wildlife
Services, are "road hazards."
The Sacramento Bee reports that Wildlife Services "officially revealed
little or no detail about where the creatures were killed, or why. But a
Bee investigation has found the agency's practices to be indiscriminate,
at odds with science, inhumane, and sometimes illegal."
While Wildlife Services makes a killing destroying geese, USDA waterfowl
breeding projects like the Wetlands Reserve Program encourage farmers to
raise them, primarily for hunting.
With agriculture and hunting agencies churning out geese, it is their
calls for more killing that should be shot down. Without modifying
landscapes and farming practices that attract the birds, killing won't
work, not for long; other geese simply fill the void.
Geese prefer waste grain, or harvested fields. The birds clean up
fields, control volunteer corn, and deposit nutrients in the soil. Geese
are wary and seek open vistas, the better to identify predators. Experts
caution farmers that cutting outer rows of corn or open spaces near
crops will attract geese, as does corn left unharvested, especially
during harsh winters when snow covers other foods. They advise planting
vulnerable crops near wooded or fenced areas. Indiana officials say that
goose grazing on winter wheat does not cause yield loss. Alternative
feeding areas, or the ancient practice of tithing, can prove successful.
Wildlife is a public trust. Yet it is owned by firearms and ammunition
manufacturers partnered with government wildlife regulators. "Game
management," which caused the problem, values certain species' lives
only as gun fodder. From the terrifying confines of a carbon dioxide
chamber, or when shot from the sky, the Canada goose has paid too steep
Susan Russell is wildlife policy
director for the Animal Protection League of New Jersey.
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