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Stop feeding the geese: Parks director says staff can’t keep up with cleanup

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Cathy Dobson

The overpopulation of Canada geese in Sarnia’s parks won’t go away unless people stop feeding them, says parks director Beth Gignac.

“If you feed them, they will stick around,” she said. “And people are feeding them. I see it all the time.”

She caught one goose fan red-handed earlier this summer in Canatara Park, near Lake Chipican.

“I saw a fellow enthusiastically feeding the geese and he was enjoying it so much,” said Gignac. “I watched as he kept throwing bread right overtop a sign that says, ‘Please don’t feed the geese.’”

The Canada goose – once an endangered species – populates most North American waterfront parks, creating entertainment for some and consternation for others.

The 12-to-15 pound birds produce large volumes of excrement that frequently covers local walkways and makes maneuvering a real problem for pedestrians.

Gignac gets complaints at city hall, but said there’s little she can do about them.

“I could have our staff sweeping out four times a day and we’d still have trouble,” she said.  “We just don’t have enough staff time to keep up with all the goose poop, even though it’s part of our regular maintenance.”

Canada geese and their droppings have been a problem on Sarnia’s waterfront for years. Former parks director Ian Smith said five years ago he budgeted $5,000 annually to clean up goose droppings.

Gignac doesn’t have an exact figure but said staff is constantly on the job.

“In the spring it was really bad with all the rain and the muck near McPherson Fountain (in Centennial Park).  I sent staff down there with hoses and squeegees, shovels and pails and they were shovelling and scooping and doing their best.

“Quite frankly, the biggest point I can make is to urge people to stop feeding them.”

In the first half of the 20th century Canada geese were believed to be extinct due to overhunting.  The population resurged after a small flock was found in Minnesota in the 1950s.  A restoration program and hunting restrictions worked so well many now consider the birds a nuisance.

Sarnia tried using coyote cutouts to frighten geese away from the waterfront, but Gignac said the cutouts “became collectors’ items” and the strategy was abandoned.

Now, she said, the city intends to entice the birds to wetland areas and away from groomed lawns where they find feeding easy. Sarnia’s storm water management ponds all have natural spaces where geese can forage and she hopes they can be drawn there.

“We hope that perhaps planting long grasses on the waterfront and putting an armoured stone wall along the shore will deter them,” said Gignac. “But it won’t work if people go down there and feed them.”

Meanwhile, parks maintenance workers are doing their best to minimize the mess. Fifty geese can produce as much as 2.5 tons of excrement a year, according to National Geographic.

As for culling geese as some U.S. cities do, Gignac said it has never been discussed in Sarnia.

“They are a problem,” she conceded. “But you want to protect your animal population.  Our best bet is to send them off to the wetlands if we can.”



* They mate for life and both parents raise their young together for about a year.

* Females always return to the same nesting area where they were born.

* Canada geese reach 12 – 15 pounds.

* They live 10 – 24 years.

* Overhunted and nearly wiped out in last century. Restoration programs and hunting limits have brought them back.

* Many have stopped migrating because of easy access to food.

* Populate city waterfronts because of shrinking wetlands, lack of predators and groomed lawns.

Sources: Ducks Unlimited Canada & National Geographic.    

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