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City plots anti-geese strategy

Federal Way Parks Department officials are recommending the city participate for another year in a regional program to control Canada geese.

Last year was the first year Federal Way participated in an interlocal waterfowl management program, created to provide a regional approach to managing populations of Canada geese in Puget Sound’s parks and ponds.

Under the agreement, Federal Way will join 10 other cities and seven jurisdictions to provide joint funding for egg addling, lethal control and population monitoring in King County.

The cost to the city will be $3,400.

Some Steel Lake Park geese were trapped for extermination as part of the program last year, but Parks Department director Jennifer Shroder said she doesn’t know how many.

The city — and several property owners — were pleased with the reduction in fecal matter on the beaches.

“We didn’t think we’d see such a positive result right away,” Shroder said.

Washington’s Canada geese used to live primarily in the eastern part of the state, but over time, their habitat has expanded.

“They have colonized where there’s available habitat,” said Don Cragey, the waterfowl section manager with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The city parks department doesn’t have an in-city goose population baseline, but anecdotal evidence indicates goose populations have grown in Federal Way during the last 10 years.

Kurt Reuter, Federal Way’s representative on the Waterfowl Management Committee, said there is a growing concentration of geese eating grass at the parks and leaving deposits on the beach, in kids’ sandy play areas and on walkways.

Fecal matter in ponds and lakes can elevate coliform levels, ingestion of which can lead to intestinal distress.

Bacteria in the feces causes swimmers itch, and high nutrient levels in the water from feces can lead to algae blooms.

Other diseases, like salmonella, are implicated from exposure to goose feces.

Last year, officials took day counts of geese at local parks and reported them to the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the waterfowl nanagement program. As they continue to collect annual population data, the city will be able to compare numbers year to year, Shroder said.

About 400 geese live on Weyerhaeuser property year-round and 800 live there during nesting season — which is now.

One Canada goose can defecate between one and three pounds of fecal matter a day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“There’s a pollution problem, no doubt about it,” said Weyerhaeuser spokesman Frank Mendizabal. “If you have a few hundred geese, that’s a few hundred pounds a day.”

And pollution isn’t the only issue.

Mendizabal said geese build nests in the ivy at Weyerhaeuser and attack people who get too close, flying at them or spreading their wings and lunging.

“They’re very aggressive, particularly during nesting or breeding seasons,” he said. “They can have a nasty disposition.”

But there’s not much Weyerhaeuser can do to control geese living there.

State and federal authorities enforce management and protection of Canada geese under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Fish and Wildlife officials issue permits for any contact humans intend to have with Canada geese.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture responds to situations in which wildlife is causing conflicts with humans. The USDA’s wildlife division runs the waterfowl management program, which is implemented by the Waterfowl Management Committee.

The committee acquires permits from Fish and Wildlife for goose management measures.

Cragey said the USDA is supposed to use non-lethal means before resorting to extermination of goose populations. Capture and euthanasia using carbon dioxide is a last option for the Waterfowl Management Committee.

Egg addling, in which eggs are sprayed with oil to prevent them from hatching, is a popular method of non-lethal population control.

The interlocal agreement includes egg addling as a control method.

Other non-lethal methods include water cannon, fencing and grass treatments. The ultimate goal is to make habitat unattractive, Cragey said, but it doesn’t always work.

“Usually, there’s a point where non-lethal control becomes ineffective,” he said.

Greg Feigelson, director of the New York-based Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese, said his agency has never seen a case where a non-lethal program wasn’t more effective than lethal means.

That’s because exterminations have to be repeated — as soon as one goose population is exterminated, another one moves in, according to Feigelson.

“We’re talking about birds here,” Feigelson said. “Anyone with a lick of common sense would know that this is great habitat.”

Feigelson said the coalition recognizes Canada geese can be a nuisance, but he said there are more effective, non-lethal methods for controlling their populations, including egg addling and scare tactics.

“The nice thing about geese is they’re smart,” he said. “They can learn to avoid places.”

The Parks Department will address the interlocal Waterfowl Management Committee agreement at a May 2 meeting.

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 or ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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