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Published: Thursday, 7/8/2004

For Michigan, this is no flight of fancy

BY GRANT SCHULTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

"We heard you're wanting some geese - you want some?" the wildlife chief of Iowa's Department of Natural Resources said. "The DNR almost shipped them to Ohio, you know."

But Ohio and Michigan already have their share of Canada geese, a fast-growing flock with a reputation for distracting golfers and defecating on sidewalks. There are so many, in fact, that Michigan has trucked more than 12,000 to rural Iowa over the past five years.

A good number of those likely came from Ohio, said Tim Payne, the DNR's southeast Michigan wildlife supervisor.

The DNR hauls between 2,000 and 4,000 Canada geese a year to a reservoir in Iowa, a large marsh in rural Butler County, and a private farm along the Mississippi River. All are heavily hunted areas.

Barring a disease outbreak, displacing the fowl raises few significant environmental concerns - though birds in a new element tend to fall victim more often to predators, Mr. Bishop said.

The hunters have so far kept the birds' numbers in check, with relatively few worries that they'll infiltrate the state's larger cities. But the solution is temporary, DNR officials said. In time, the Canada geese will multiply beyond ideal levels, and Iowa will stop accepting them.

"They're willing to take them, but it's a situation that's going to dry up," said Mark Shieldcastle, project leader of the Ohio DNR's Division of Wildlife. "It's not a long-term solution. How long they'll be willing to take them, there's no way of knowing."

The birds known as "conflict" wildlife - one resident's nuisance; another's godsend - also face a significant public relations battle, Mr. Shieldcastle said. They love developed areas, but tend to bother people. In rare cases during their mating season, males nesting around local businesses will harass passers-by.

"You've got half the people who are sick and tired of stepping on goose manure, and the other half are feeding them," he said.

Jim Brower, the manager of Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, had just finished shooting at the geese with popper shells - small explosive charges designed to scare them off - when a reporter called.

"We've had them here for years," he said. "The geese tend to get comfortable in places people like."

Mr. Bishop said he volunteered Iowa as a habitat because he was concerned the geese would face hostility.

"It was somewhat beneficial to us, and it was beneficial to them at the same time," he said.

In Iowa, he said, the birds who seek "a place where they're not being harassed, not being killed" will stay under control.

For a while.

The geese shipped to Iowa now are flocking to the state's larger cities - Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, and Mason City, he said.

"It's a slow growth," Mr. Bishop said. "Until that critical level is reached, you don't have much problem."

Affordable Animal and Pest Removal Service, a Toledo-based business, receives two to three calls a year about Canada geese, mostly from golf courses or Toledo Express Airport, said owner Chris Roper.

Removing the birds takes a month because they are federally protected, and companies need a special permit to get rid of them, he said.

Not everyone views the geese as pests. Driving into Des Moines, Mr. Bishop said that spotting a V-formation of flying geese on his way into work is a "tremendous boost."

"It's a huge plus to the quality of life," he said. "People like to see the Canada geese, they like to see them fly around, they like to bring children to feed those geese."

Ohio's Canada goose population totals 120,000, spread through all 88 counties. In 1979, the first year the state surveyed for geese, DNR officials counted 18,000.

"The worst thing that can happen to a species is for people to think about them as vermin only," Mr. Shieldcastle said. "It's trying to meet that balance of not too many, yet not too few."

Contact Grant Schulte at:

gschulte@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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