Vantage Point

Finding the Balance

Do you ever find yourself wondering how much is enough or when enough may be too much? Resolving these issues can be quite a balancing act. As a resource management agency, the Missouri Department of Conservation is often faced with questions like these when making decisions about the state's fish, forest and wildlife resources.

How many trees per acre make a good forest? The answer to that question depends on many factors. What types of trees are being produced? Is the land public or private? Is the objective marketable timber or increased wildlife cover? It reminds me of the old cliché, “Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees!”

Managing Missouri’s water resources can be equally challenging. Too many fish in a body of water causes increased competition for food and stunted growth, while not enough fish will decrease one’s potential to provide meat for the frying pan.

Biologists, researchers and land managers are not only walking the tightrope of resource dynamics but also public opinion. A good example comes to mind that illustrates the complexity of balancing science and public tolerance.

The issue is the management and control of resident urban Canada geese.

In Missouri, the resident Canada goose population (the geese that don’t migrate) is strong. In fact, population estimates for 2006 put Canada goose numbers at more than 60,000 birds, which is double the estimated number of just 13 years ago. While we consider the Canada goose management plan a success, high numbers of these birds often cause problems where they come in conflict with human populations.

Complaints from urban centers, where hunting is often not allowed, are common as Canada geese congregate on subdivision lakes and golf courses and in city parks. Most complaints revolve around the droppings generated by a flock of geese, but others include being chased by geese, water quality issues and additional dangers, such as geese living near an airport.

The Missouri Department of Conservation is very active in helping citizens deal with wildlife issues. We try to resolve human/wildlife conflicts utilizing nonlethal control when possible. We provide technical advice and literature on all known, proven methods for discouraging geese from becoming established in an area. These methods include habitat manipulation, various harassment techniques, trained dogs, egg oiling, and repellents. Not all control techniques are practical at any given site, and no single control method or combination of methods is successful 100 percent of the time. Because of this, lethal control methods sometimes become necessary to reduce or maintain a local population to an acceptable level.

Lethal control usually comes in the form of a roundup-and-removal effort, after an entity meets minimum requirements to be considered for a special permit. Geese captured during a roundup are processed for human consumption and distributed to needy families in Missouri by local food pantries. While the Missouri Department of Conservation is mandated to administer the permitting process, the costs associated with conducting roundups and processing is the responsibility of the requesting party.

Everyone seems to realize the value of wildlife in Missouri, not only from an economic standpoint but an aesthetic one as well. When wildlife becomes an issue, we often find ourselves weighing that value. Finding the balance is not always easy. Although philosophies and opinions may differ, rest assured that the Missouri Department of Conservation is dedicated in our efforts to bring about a balance that serves the state’s wild resources and Missouri’s citizens.

Stephen J. Wilson, Private Land Services Division Chief