No Giggles When Gaggles Of Geese Goop Up Your Town

Canada geese leave more than footprints in North American cities

Canadians won't be cooking their geese after all. Canada geese flying in majestic V-formation have long symbolized this nation's untamed spirit, but until last week Mississauga, Ont., officials said the birds were fouling city parks and would be slaughtered.

Animal-rights activists went to court to block the city's plan to round up the geese and truck them to an abattoir during their flightless "molting" period that runs from mid-June to mid-July.

But in a last-minute compromise, city officials agreed to ship up to 2,000 geese to New Brunswick's coastal marshes rather than kill them.

"It was tough going," Milda Barns, president of the Mississauga Wildlife Society told reporters Thursday. "At first they [city officials] wouldn't bend, but all the pressure paid off off."

Only 40 years ago, the giant Canada goose - a subspecies called Branta canadensis maxima - was thought almost extinct. But the 1969 rediscovery of a gaggle of the "giants" in Minnesota led to reintroductions across North America. Efforts to save them were a big success - some feel too big.

Unthreatened by predators and lured to habitats like golf courses and parks, the geese moved into cities and suburbia. Now the population is ballooning, with perhaps 1 million birds continent-wide, wildlife officials say. There are between 300,000 and 400,000 Canada geese in southern Ontario, according to the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS).

Not every Canada goose subspecies is doing well, but it is nearly impossible to tell whether city geese are "residents" that hardly migrate at all - or are long-distance flyers whose populations are "in trouble," says Rick Pratt of the CSW.

Mississauga had tried coating goose eggs with mineral oil, changing waterfront habitat, to chasing geese with dogs - all to no avail. Up to 2,000 geese still waddle about nipping grass and leaving droppings that make it a squishy experience for park visitors.

"The goose population here doubles every three to five years," says Wilma Davis, a Mississauga spokeswoman. "They love our parks and golf courses. Now they're getting into residents' back yards. The parks are covered [with droppings] - it's quite unbelievable."

Fed up, Mississauga last week applied to the Canadian Wildlife Service for a permit to cull up to as many as 2,000 geese over the next two years. The carcasses would be donated to local food banks, city officials say. Food bank officials are unsure whether to accept them, worried they may be tainted with toxins.

The Animal Alliance of Canada has advised the wildlife service it will seek a court injunction to make sure no Mississauga goose is cooked. The Migratory Bird Act of 1918, a treaty between the US and Canada, requires special permission to kill Canada geese, activists say.

"Communities all over North America are dealing with this issue," says Anne Livingston, of the Animal Alliance of Canada, which has promised a court challenge to block the kill.

Mass culling of Canada geese is already a fact in parts of the Midwest. Michigan has applied for permission to kill 3,000 and relocate 12,000, according to Anne Frisch, national director of the Coalition to Protect Canada Geese, a US animal-rights group.

Minneapolis is seeking a permit to kill 2,000 geese. "We're opposed to the mindless slaughter," says Ms. Frisch, "There are a lot of people who are worried about feces and get very emotional about it. But no one wants to talk about the trauma these animals experience" when they go to the slaughterhouse.

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