Geese gassing: Residents call for moratorium on ‘harsh’ killings in Federal Way

Twin Lakes HOA decides not to use lethal methods to remove geese this season; country club will proceed with euthanizing geese.

Two Federal Way residents are taking a stand against “inhumane” and “cruel” geese removal methods used in Federal Way.

Tony and Bonnie Armstrong, residents in Twin Lakes, requested during the May 7 City Council meeting the city to declare a moratorium on harsh and ineffective killings of local Canada geese in all lakes, golf courses, ponds, creeks, streams and parks within the city.

They also urged the city to develop and implement a “city-wide, humane and effective Canada geese population management program.”

“As dues-paying members of both [the Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club and Twin Lakes Homeowners Association], we strongly object to our monthly dues being paid to Wildlife Services to gas to death Canada Geese in the face of effective, non-lethal methods,” Bonnie Armstrong wrote in a letter to the city. She called on both organizations to adopt a humane, non-lethal and effective policy for managing the geese population, and to “cancel the the roundup/kill portion of their contracts with Wildlife Services before molting season next month.”

The Armstrongs plan to implore the council once again during tonight’s meeting to enact a city-wide moratorium by their deadline of June 10. This cutoff point coincides with the geese molting season, when geese lose their feathers as new ones grow in to prepare for fall migration, making the birds unable to fly for several weeks; this period often lasts from late June through August.

The Twin Lakes Homeowners Association told the Mirror it will not do a lethal removal of resident Canada geese this year, while the Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club intends to follow through with the relocation of the geese, which does involve gassing them. The city also has a contract with Wildlife Services and the city’s Lake Management Districts regarding geese removal.

The removal of geese is often referred to as a “relocation program,” according to an August 2016 “preventing and managing waterfowl damage” fact sheet from the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services.

“Under certain circumstances, Wildlife Services may capture urban waterfowl using live traps or tranquilizers and relocate them … Capturing and removing birds by humane euthanasia can enhance the effectiveness of other management methods. It can successfully reduce the local waterfowl population, particularly resident Canada geese.”

If an organization chooses to go forth with a control method, the management activity is essentially a round-up, said Wildlife Services district supervisor Brook Zscheile.

“When the geese are deemed to be causing large amounts of damage or are human health and safety hazards, if the recommendation is made that the geese be removed, they are rounded up during the molting season,” Zscheile said. “… They are corralled into a little walk-in trap, and then they are removed and humanely euthanized following the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) guidelines.”

Euthanizing is done by means of carbon dioxide — an odorless gas, he said.

Canada geese know how to hold their breath so the gassing process is a long, agonizing, terrifying suffocation, Bonnie Armstrong noted in a flyer she sent to Twin Lakes neighbors.

The euthanized geese are disposed of according to state regulations, which is typically a deep burial, said Wildlife Services district supervisor Brook Zscheile.

Due to lack of demand and avian influenza — commonly known as bird flu — the meat of Canada geese is no longer donated to charitable organizations by Wildlife Services in Washington state. Wildlife does occasionally donate the meat to animal organizations such as Wolf Haven for animal consumption, but this is done on an as-needed basis, Zscheile said.

City of Federal Way

On April 24, 2014, a Cooperative Services Agreement was executed between the city and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Wildlife Services to conduct federally-permitted wildlife damage management activities to control Canada geese on behalf of the Steel Lake and North Lake Lake Management Districts, according to Theresa Thurlow, surface water manager for the city of Federal Way.

The program includes technical assistance, population monitoring, and population control. The city did not specify what “population control” entails.

The agreement expires September 20, 2019, Thurlow noted. The 2019 work plans were approved by each committee on Feb. 19, 2019. This year’s agreement is for services from April 1 to Sept. 20.

Over the past five years, the city’s geese control methods on behalf of the Steel Lake’s Management District included egg addling, population control and egg oiling.

The cost of geese removal does not come out of city funds, Thurlow wrote.

“Waterfowl management is paid for under the Steel Lake and/or the North Lake LMD budgets which are collected by King County and administered by City of Federal Way SWM Personnel,” she stated.

According to Thurlow, USDA charges include personnel time, vehicle charges, supplies and materials cost.

City officials noted recent impacts of the waterfowl at Steel Lake.

A case of swimmer’s itch was reported on Monday afternoon, according to the city’s communications coordinator Tyler Hemstreet. This is due to contamination from waterfowl, he added.

The lake has not been shut down and the city’s Parks division is considering posting warning signs for the public, he noted.

Geese and neighbors

Residents in the Twin Lakes Homeowners Association area claim a geese gassing was executed on or around June 20, 2016 at Treasure Island Park in the middle of the night.

The Twin Lakes HOA encompasses 10 neighborhood divisions between Hoyt Road and 21st Avenue along South 320th Street. The association oversees more than 1,400 homeowners.

On July 14, 2016, Bonnie Armstrong spoke with Wildlife Services district supervisor Brook Zscheile who confirmed 29 geese were “euthanized” by means of gassing in Twin Lakes on June 20, 2016, according to Bonnie Armstrong.

Zscheile said he does not recall the phone call with Bonnie Armstrong about the 2016 euthanizing.

“I don’t believe we did any of those [removal] activities out there in 2016,” Zscheile said. “And it would’ve been us that did it.”

The Twin Lakes HOA has a five-year contract with Wildlife Services, originally signed by former HOA president Gary Darcey on June 17, 2016.

The contract, called a WS 12A, is an “Agreement for Control of Animal Damage on Private Property (ADP Input),” according to the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website.

The form outlines Canadian geese population control work will be performed at Treasure Island Park and Ponce Park in Twin Lakes by means of drive trap, nest/egg destruction, hand caught, corn oil, nets, and other components. There is no specific mention of carbon dioxide usage.

The Twin Lakes HOA contract is valid through June 17, 2021.

According to emails sent in 2018 by current HOA president Patrick Pomeroy, the flat fee in 2016 for Wildlife Services cost $1,750 in total. Pomeroy then explains the pricing breakdown is never calculated per bird, rather it is a flat charge regardless of how many geese are caught.

“The fee stated to us in 2018 if we used the service was a flat $1,250 and I believe the [Twin Lakes Golf & Country Club] was given the same rate,” Pomeroy continues in the email.

After the Twin Lakes HOA Executive Board action special meeting on June 25, 2018, Pomeroy wrote an email to Armstrong explaining the HOA “has decided via majority vote to rescind for 2018 the ‘removal’ of geese by the USDA on our two lakes (Ponce de Leone and Lake Lorene).”

Earlier this spring, two nests of goose eggs were removed and destroyed from private property by Wildlife Services, as it was too late in the season to oil the eggs, Zscheile said. This removal was done to remove aggressive birds on people’s properties in Twin Lakes.

The Twin Lakes HOA board of directors voted at its May 2019 meeting to follow the recommendation of the Department of Agriculture wildlife biologists as to whether removal would be necessary for geese on the lakes owned and controlled by the association, according to Jennifer Hill, an attorney for the Twin Lakes HOA.

“The biologists provided the recommendation last week that lethal removal will not be necessary to control the current geese population in Twin Lakes,” Hill stated. “Therefore, the [Twin Lakes HOA] will not be involved or participating in the lethal removal of resident geese from its lakes in 2019.”

The HOA staff and board members declined to answer any further questions.

On June 1, the HOA sent a letter to residents outlining: “The Board has agreed to accept and act on all of the Dept. of Agriculture biologists recommendations that have been suggested to us,” the letter reads, referring to Wildlife Services district supervisor Zscheile.

The letter continues to explain the decision and Zscheile’s recommendation, which is the Twin Lakes HOA “not do a lethal removal of resident Canada geese this year as the numbers are trending down and hopefully approaching a permanently lower threshold.”

Zscheile further recommended the Twin Lakes HOA sign up with the USDA for an early and well-organized goose egg “oiling” program starting as early as Feb. 1, 2020, according to the letter.

Geese and golfers

At the Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club, an 18-hole private golf course in Federal Way, the geese create a complicated problem, said Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club board president Dave Cox.

Cox, who is in his first year as board president and third term serving on the board of the club, initially joined the club 31 years ago and said last year was the peak of the geese.

“At that time, you rarely saw a goose on the course,” he said of when he joined the club, noting in 2018 more than approximately 140 geese were counted. “Last year was probably the peak for the golf course of the amount of geese on the property.”

A few weeks ago, Cox said he counted about 30 adult geese and 17 goslings near hole three.

No natural predators and people illegally feeding the geese give the animals no reason to leave, Cox said. The man-made Twin Lakes, Lake Jean and Lake Lorene, are another factor that contributes to geese dwelling in the area.

“Obviously nobody is happy about having to do something with an animal,” Cox said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

An adult goose can drop around two pounds of feces per day, Cox said. These droppings end up on people’s shoes, their golf equipment, tracked into the facility, on the pool deck, and walkways, among other places, Cox said.

Those droppings can contain E. coli, salmonella and other harmful bacteria, he noted.

“As a golf course, there’s a concern about the damage the geese do … but that’s minimal when we talk about human health and potential issues,” Cox said. “From my standpoint as president, that’s my biggest concern.”

The country club hosts numerous golf camps, private events, swim lessons, golf tournaments, holiday events and more. The club serves between 1,200-1,400 people annually through the various events and offerings.

“We have all these programs where we have people in this club from infants to 90-plus-year-olds,” he said. “The young children and the elderly are the two most at-risk segments of this … getting sick.”

“We’re really trying to be good neighbors … We want to keep everybody safe here.”

The club has used methods to get rid of or control the geese such as the use of dogs to scare the geese, green lasers on the course and firecrackers, Cox said. Lasers are only effective in cloudy weather, he noted.

But these methods are only temporary fixes, Cox said, as the geese fly away — then come right back. Migrant geese may be scared away, but the resident geese quickly learn the tactics and aren’t fazed.

The club has not found any successful methods — otherwise they’d be doing them, Cox said.

“We’ve tried absolutely everything and everything is just short-term.”

This season, the club is working with the USDA and the Twin Lakes HOA to see what can be done and research other options, Cox said.

He said he’s unsure how the relocation process is done.

“I’ve been told they herd them into pens and take them off and … probably gas them, I’m not sure exactly.”

The cost with Wildlife Services for geese removal is $2,000 per removal event, per year, Cox said.

Although the two organizations held a goose symposium meeting for residents of the Twin Lakes area in May, Cox said the country club will not make their decision jointly with the HOA.

“Every week, members approach me about ‘what are we doing to do with the geese problem,’” he said.

Last year, the club did not gas the geese because they missed the appropriate time period, Cox said.

“We’re doing everything we can to make the best out of the situation,” Cox said, adding the golf club’s board of directors will decide how much communication will be passed along to members.

Protecting everyone that comes into the club from potential serious bacterial infection is his top priority, he said.

The Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club intends to follow through with the relocation of the Canada geese, Cox confirmed on Monday.

“The hope would be that it is a joint effort between the two organizations (HOA and country club),” Cox said. “If they (the HOA) back out, the membership has been every clear they still want us to do the best we can on our golf course property.”

Community weighs in

“Being a Twin Lakes homeowner, I want to give my support to the goose ‘relocation’ program,” wrote Trace Harrell in an email to the Mirror. “Consider me part of the silent majority that does want the Mayor and the Twin Lakes Home Owners president to know we want this program to proceed as planned this year.”

If this was a pack of coyotes, they would have been eradicated as quickly as they showed up, Harrell explained.

“They are however a gaggle of geese that multiplies each year with no natural predator to keep their numbers in check,” Harrell continued. “Let the goose managers, aka USDA, manage the flock.”

Federal Way’s Deputy Mayor Susan Honda holds an opposite stance on the geese predicament.

“I would like to thank Tony and Bonnie Armstrong for their leadership in bringing this to our attention,” Deputy Mayor Susan Honda told the Mirror via email.

“I understand that Canadian geese can be an issue with the golf course,” she wrote. “But I do believe that we can manage the population of the geese in a humane way. And I would like to see a policy which addresses this in Federal Way.”

Honda said gassing the geese and their babies is cruel and ineffective, adding that she believes the city can use other proven methods to control the population of geese.

Tonight’s council meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Federal Way City Hall.