Canada goose kill begins in Seattle in May 2000.

  • By David B. Williams
  • Posted 3/12/2010
  • Essay 9351
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Beginning in May 2000 and continuing through the summer, federal wildlife officers collect and kill Canada geese in Seattle parks. They do so to alleviate the burgeoning populations of urban geese. The geese are blamed for fouling parks and for spreading disease through their fecal deposits. This is the second time in 15 years that city officials try to address this issue. Goose killing will continue for several years, until populations drop, and officials can use non-lethal methods to deal with geese.

How It Was Done

Wildlife officers working for the Wildlife Services division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture captured Canada geese in Seattle city parks, put them in specially designed trucks, and gassed them to death. The officials had been asked to do this by an intergovernmental agency, the Seattle Waterfowl Management Committee (SWMC), established in 1987 to address problems associated with ever-expanding local populations of Canada geese.

The killings continued through the summer, when neither adults nor their offspring can fly and when the birds are most obvious, hanging around and pooping in parks. By the end of the year 2000, agents had killed 3,500 birds around Puget Sound. It was considered such a success that federal agents killed 4,200 additional birds in 2001.  

Seattle's Canada Geese

Seattle city officials first began to study urban geese in 1989, when the waterfowl management committee hired University of Washington biologist David Manuwal to complete a 12-month study of urban Canada geese. Manuwal and his group examined 25 parks in the Seattle area, finding between 3,000 and 4,000 Canada geese around Puget Sound.   

Although Munuwal neither named it nor cited any written documentation for it, he traced the origin of these birds to a project known as Operation Mother Goose. Set up by the Washington state Department of Game and the U.S. Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, the undertaking consisted of collecting goose eggs along the Columbia River behind the nearly complete John Day Dam, 28 miles east of the The Dalles, Oregon. After hatching the goslings would be used to repopulate populations of Canada geese that had dwindled drastically over the decades.  Munuwal concluded that the best way to stem the growing population was to capture and ship back across the mountains up to 90 percent of the birds over a five-year period. He wrote, “Do we use preventative management now when it is relatively cheap or do we wait until the population of Canada geese is so large that their numbers must be reduced dramatically?” (Manuwal).  

Protesting and Relocating

When news of Manuwal's report became public, activists gathered signatures, wrote letters to the editor, and protested at public forums. "We think the geese have a right to be where they are. They have just as much a right to be here as the people who use the beach,'' said Dr. Wayne Johnson of the Northwest Animal Rights Network. "We do not think Canada geese should have to pay with their life because of fecal matter" (Seattle P-I). Johnson also added that park officials had not stressed options such as discouraging people from feeding the geese.

Despite the arguments, goose collection began in the summer of 1991. Biologists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Damage Control division, which changed its name to Wildlife Services in 1997 to better reflect the program's new mission of "balancing the needs of humans and wildlife," gathered 2,524 birds and shipped them east. A year later they transported 1,731 more, followed by 519 in 1993. The number dropped, not because this action had succeeded in reducing overall numbers, but because Idaho didn't want any more birds. A mild winter in 1991 had left plenty of food along the Snake River and the birds didn't migrate. Seattle’s problem had become Idaho's.  

Deportation did lead to a downturn in numbers, but not for long. An August 1993 aerial census found 2,315 geese in Seattle, although biologists predicted that if no further action was taken, the population would double in five years. It is obvious to anyone that these biologists were correct. Urban Canada geese can produce up to 15 eggs per nest and can quickly build their numbers up again.

The Goose Kill Begins

By end of the decade, the urban goose population had reached critical proportions where beaches were closed because of too much goose poop; complaints flowed into park officials. This led in 1999 to an Environmental Assessment on resident Canada geese in the Puget Sound area. As Professor Manuwal had written in the earlier report, lead Environmental Assessment  author Keel Price, a biologist for Wildlife Services, used the bird's introduction as a justification for his findings: "It should be noted that the western Canada goose was not historically found in the Puget Sound area. It was mans’ [sic] intervention that accelerated their introduction..." (Price).  Price concluded that killing 3,500 birds would be the best solution to slow the population growth.  

Goose killing continued in 2002 and 2003, with the numbers dropping each year. Protests also continued, including some people putting up posters and overpass banners bearing the face and phone number of Seattle Parks Superintendent Ken Bounds. In 2004, with goose numbers drastically reduced, city officials worked with the Progessive Animal Welfare Society to try alternative goose control methods. Such methods include egg addling (putting oil on the eggs which prevents the embryo from developing), harassment with dogs, and lasers (geese appear to dislike laser beams).

Canada geese still continue (as of 2010) to live and thrive in the Seattle area, and throughout Puget Sound. No mass, government sanctioned goose killings have occurred in recent years.

Sources: David Manuwal, Nuisance Waterfowl at Public Waterfront Parks in the Seattle Metropolitan Area (Seattle: Wildlife Science Group, University of Washington, 1990), 48; Scott Maier, “Canada Geese Have Worn Out Welcome,” Seattle Post Intelligencer, November 21, 1990, p. A-1; David B. Williams, The Street-Smart Naturalist: Field Notes from Seattle (Portland, Oregon: WestWinds Press, 2005); U.S. Department of Agriculture, Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact and Decision for Management of Conflicts Associated with Non-Migratory (resident) Canada Geese in the Puget Sound Area, (November 1, 1991), 37; Gina Kim, “Goose -roundup protester arrested -- Man accused of causing wildlife agent's traffic accident,” The Seattle Times, June 22, 2002, p. B-2; Susan Paynter, “Geese Supporters are Going to Wild Extremes,” Seattle Post Intelligencer, June 16, 2003, p. D-1; Kery Murakami, Goose No Longer As Loose in Parks -- Scare Tactics Appear to be Working, Keeping Areas Droppings-Free,” Ibid., September 15, 2004, p. B-3.

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