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Canada geese becoming a big honking problem

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Canada geese are shown near the man-made pond on the Elizabeth City State University campus, Wednesday. "Resident" geese are destroying crops, damaging ponds and creating unsanitary conditions in Pasquotank County, local farm and wildlife officials said this week.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Canada geese are destroying crops, damaging ponds and creating unsafe and unsanitary conditions across Pasquotank County, local farm and wildlife officials told county commissioners this week.

N.C. Cooperative Extension officials have been studying the impact of “resident” Canada geese in Pasquotank for more than a year, Agriculture Agent Al Wood told commissioners at a finance committee meeting Monday. The birds don't migrate and live in Pasquotank year-round, meaning they settle in around around water and food sources, often including stormwater ponds and farmers' fields, he said.

Based on meetings with growers, Wood estimated Canada geese damaged 230 acres of farmland in the past year. They can eat entire fields bare, and seem to particularly like soybeans, he said.

“You're looking at a potential of $103,000 in impact to the growers,” Wood said.

The geese are so destructive at some Pasquotank farms that farmers leave some fields bare, rather than waste money growing crops that will be eaten before harvest, he said.

Resident geese are hurting more than farmers, Wood continued. They settle around stormwater retention ponds, including at Elizabeth City State University, and eat the grass along the edges, he said. That causes erosion and forces people to spend money cleaning the ponds.

Then there's problem of bird poop. The Canada geese congregate in large flocks and can leave sidewalks, parks, and, in one school's case, a basketball court covered in excrement, Wood said. That's unsightly and unsanitary, he noted.

Aaron Bowden, supervisory wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, said the geese can also pose a safety hazard. During mating season, they can become territorial and aggressive. He recalled one goose even got past a fence at Pasquotank Correctional Institution and was chasing inmates around an outdoor recreational area.

Bowden said the birds may not seem a threat to adults, but warned they can easily hurt small children.

Geese can also become a traffic hazard, he said. They molt annually and lose the ability to fly until their new flight feathers grow in. That means they sometimes have no choice but to cross busy streets, often in large numbers.

Bowden also warned that geese are getting worse as humans unintentionally support their reproduction.

“You are producing habitat for them as the city expands,” Bowden said, noting that residential and commercial growth provides ponds and grass for grazing.

He also noted humans have driven away the geese’s natural predators, at least around Elizabeth City, and farmers occasionally shooting them hasn't meaningfully reduced their numbers. He estimated there were up to 700 geese on just six sites in Pasquotank last year.

Commissioner Lloyd Griffin agreed the geese are a problem, and asked what the county could do about them.

Bowden recommended an “integrated,” countywide approach with a mix of lethal and nonlethal options. The Wildlife Service could simply round up geese en masse, but it has nowhere to relocate them and would euthanize the animals, he said. Killing that many geese would come with bad publicity and overly affect a natural resource, which the geese still are, he said.

Instead, Bowden recommended harassing the geese away, “reinforced with limited lethal options,” and treating their eggs so they won't hatch. Wildlife officials don't simply destroy eggs because geese could lay more if they realized their nests had been tampered with.

The Wildlife Service's help is not free, however. Bowden estimated controlling Pasquotank's resident goose population could cost between $12,000 and $20,000.

Griffin called for Cooperative Extension, the Wildlife Service and concerned property owners to ask Elizabeth City for help as well.

Other commissioners agreed, asking Wood to seek the city's help as well, including splitting the costs of population-control efforts.

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