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spring 2006 / a day's work :: email this story to a friend

Keeping the Peace with St. Louis' Geese
By Jennifer Stephens

For the past several years, Canada geese have followed human migration patterns in the St. Louis area and found life is better in the 'burbs. Unfortunately, the numbers of geese caused problems for local residents, parks, businesses and colleges. GeesePeace, a national organization with a local outlet, is finding success in helping keep St. Louis' feathered friends in check.

GeesePeace One local resident was instrumental in bringing GeesePeace to St. Louis. By day, Nancy Schnell is a middle school science teacher. By afternoon, evening, and most weekends, she can be found protecting the Canada goose population in the St. Louis area. Schnell is among a group of St. Louisans concerned with the welfare of the wild geese who make St. Louis home. In 2001 she helped introduce GeesePeace, a Virgina-based organization, whose mission is "building better communities by providing a humane solution for reducing the nuisance aspect of individual populations of geese while recognizing and respecting their place in our environment."

Schnell and I sat down recently to talk about geese, peace and upcoming GeesePeace activities in the St. Louis area.

Q: Nancy, how did GeesePeace find its way to St. Louis?

My science students have been cleaning up litter and fishing line at January Wabash Park, adjacent to Ferguson Middle School, for several years. My students have helped rescue waterfowl that had fishing line wound around their legs. Canada geese are often the victims. I became involved with the Wildlife Rescue organization by volunteering during the summer with students to help take care of wildlife being rehabilitated at the Wildlife Rescue facility. In the spring of 2001, a student brought in an article from the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporting that the Missouri Department of Conservation planned to slaughter geese. I remember thinking, "Oh, no"; my student asked, "What are we going to do about this?"

A number of people in the St. Louis area involved in animal rescue issues got together to petition the governor and the Missouri Department of Conservation to stop the slaughter from happening. Those appeals failed and the slaughter went on as planned. At that point we realized we needed to find alternatives to the slaughter of geese. The local Pekin Duck Society heard about an organization on the East coast. I called and the president of GeesePeace, David Feld, answered. He was willing to come to St. Louis to propose a goose management plan. A meeting was held with the Missouri Department of Conservation and we explained we wanted to institute an alternative program to slaughter.

Q: Could you explain why slaughtering geese isn't the best plan for managing them?

majestic goose First, it doesn't solve the problem. If geese are removed from a site and the same conditions remain which invited those geese, more geese will just fly in. For example, Forest Park has slaughtered geese for the past two summers, yet they still have hundreds of geese. Over 450 migratory and residential geese were counted there in December 2005. Another reason slaughter isn't a best choice for managing geese is because it is regarded as cruel. Round up and slaughter of geese is done during the summer molt. That is the time when adult geese are flightless and raising their goslings. Adults are netted, crated and shipped off to slaughter. Goslings are released without their parents in a rural area. Many people consider this method needlessly cruel, especially when a humane population stabilization program can be put in place. Finally, the slaughter of geese creates great controversy in communities. While some people are eager to try and resolve problems by killing wild geese, other people are adamantly opposed and friction and controversy break out. GeesePeace prefers to channel that energy into a positive resolution for all parties.

Q: I'm surprised to hear that Forest Park has been using slaughter as an attempt to try to curb its Canada geese population. I would think that such a decision would be unpopular with a number of park users.

I'm hopeful the slaughter there will be discontinued. Representatives from GeesePeace met with Mayor Slay in the summer of 2005. He said there would be no slaughter of Forest Park geese for three years so that GeesePeace could have a chance to implement the program. We are waiting to hear from Forest Park officials about setting up the program there.

Q: Besides St. Louis being a great place to raise children, why do so many geese find the St. Louis area hospitable?

We live on the Mississippi Flyway, an intercontinental highway for migrating geese. After the Depression, our state's wildlife population, including geese, was fairly depleted. In 1949, the Missouri Department of Conservation began a program to repopulate geese, both for hunting purposes and because people wanted to see these beautiful animals. The Department of Conservation did not anticipate the extent to which geese would find our suburban areas so inviting. Such a welcoming environment is due to cut grass, lots of bodies of water, people who feed the geese, and they have few predators. It's a goose nirvana.

Q: Left unchecked, what would happen to the Canada goose population in the area?

The population can double about every five years. The geese continue to multiply and become more problematic in sites like lakes, parks and business or college campuses. These are places where there are not many natural predators for the geese to help keep the population in check.

Look out, geese! The border collie is on the scene! GeesePeace offers egg oiling and the training of border collies to assist in controlling the wild goose population in urban and suburban areas. Recent studies from the Missouri Department of Conservation show that the population is stabilizing, due to the efforts of GeesePeace, as well as early hunting in the fall, before the migratory birds stop over, of geese that fly out of the urban/suburban areas.

Q: Would you consider the efforts of GeesePeace in the St. Louis area to be a success?

I think the Missouri Department of Conservation realizes we are serious and considers us a credible organization with which to partner. If you call the conservation department about a goose problem, they will refer the call to us. In addition, numerous municipalities, corporations and universities in the area have utilized the services of GeesePeace.

Q: GeesePeace offers a number of events and volunteer training sessions in the St. Louis area. What can a person learn when attending a session?

In two hours, we train people how to humanely substitute wooden eggs for goose eggs, how to oil eggs, and how to put together a program for homeowner associations for dealing with geese. Training sessions and other events happen at a variety of St. Louis area locations. Go to www.geesepeacestlouis.org for a list of dates and times.

Jennifer Stephens has been at peace with geese for 30 out of her 31 years. She especially would like to thank her goose friends: Gotwald, Aby, Lucy Goosey, Junior, Goose and Peep, wherever he might be.

© 2006 The Commonspace