Stepping in Success
If you live in the Jefferson City area and want to enjoy a day or hour on the shoreline of a public water, chances are your destination of choice is Binder Lake. Just on the edge of the city limits, this 155-acre lake, constructed and managed jointly by the Conservation Department and City of Jefferson City, at first glance seems the ideal retreat for relaxing, fishing and enjoying the Missouri outdoors. It has good fishing, a trail system, picnic tables, associated recreational fields, concession stand, boats to rent and a great setting. I couldn't wait upon arrival at Jefferson City a year ago to take advantage of those opportunities.
My first go at the lake was a little hiking around the edge and tossing a retrieving dummy for the four-legged companion that shares the picture with me. This was followed by taking my niece and nephew for an hour or two of fun, adventure and fishing. That fishing trip is when I suddenly became aware of the real dominant feature of the lake-giant Canada geese (Branta canadensis maxima for you scientific types). They and their excreta were everywhere! Literally one could not take a step on the shoreline without becoming ONE with the geese! Sitting down was out of the question. I could ramble on but you get the picture. Our goose restoration work on Binder Lake is a success story that has careened out of control.
Don't get me wrong; Rip (my dog) and I love geese. We like to be tucked away in the early morning surrounded by nature and vegetation, the wind at our backs, decoys bobbing out front and goose sounds vibrating in our ears. And we like to see them in every phase of their life from egg to adult and "beyond." (Yes, I enjoy a good dinner highlighted by their presence.) But, judging from my own experience and the calls received statewide daily, perhaps we have been too successful with our reestablishment of Mr. and Mrs. Goose in urban areas and waters.
In the early 1960s, there were only 50,000 giant Canadas in North America. Now we face the daunting challenge of some 2 million in the eastern United States, 1 million in our flyway in the spring and at least 41,000 in Missouri, according to the latest estimates. Good habitat and protection, coupled with the goose's urban propensity, have been the key to their success. Their new abundance now threatens aircraft (some 240 goose collisions with aircraft are reported annually, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Urban recreational waters are being overly fertilized with their droppings (what I stepped in at Binder Lake). Golf greens have become prime recipients of their over-grazing ability.
While attitudes of urbanites toward geese vary, an increasing number are pleading for some type or degree of help from the Conservation Department. Using traditional methods like hunting to reduce goose impact appears to be only a limited option, since they inhabit urban areas and hunting is possible by federal regulation only in the fall and early winter.
Resource agencies like ours treat most problems of any magnitude with a committee and especially hard problems with a TASK FORCE! So we appointed the needed "FORCE," and set them work on the problem. Our attack on this feathered problem may range from doing nothing-where people agree they are not a serious problem-to the extreme of rounding up and removing geese in severe cases. In the latter instance, birds could be processed into meat products and distributed to needy citizens by existing food shelf programs. Public involvement and understanding will obviously be critical for success in moderating goose populations by these and other approaches. Bottom line is we hope our future recreational partnership with geese will be graced with a little less need to look around before stepping, and that our lawns, golf courses, waters and airports can emerge as the user-friendly places we imagined when they were constructed.
This sounds so good on paper, I think we'll just put the Wildlife Division folks in full charge and get ready to receive the compliments when they appear! In reality, hard work and public understanding will be required to balance this success story between peoples' desires and the biological ability of geese to withstand our best intended efforts. Commission action will be required for portions of the above suggestions. So what can you do other than stay tuned for the outcome? Stop feeding geese in urban areas where large numbers are present; support special metro goose hunting seasons and other less lethal control methods in appropriate areas and, until we have the problem under control, watch where you step!
Jerry M. Conley