Federal officials will round up and kill hundreds of Canada geese currently living in Denver’s parks over the next two weeks, city officials say.
It’s a controversial program, acknowledged Deputy Parks Manager Scott Gilmore. But it’s a necessary one because it’s unnatural for the geese to live in Denver’s parks year round, and the mess they leave behind can damage waterways and spread diseases.
About 5,000 Canada geese call Denver home, Gilmore said. Another 5,000 to 10,000 migrate through each year but it’s the resident geese that cause the most problems. With no natural predators in city parks, the geese population is far too high, he said.
“A goose can poop a pound a day,” Gilmore said. “If you go 5,000 times 365 that is 1,825,000 pounds of poop a year. That’s a lot of poop.”
For years Denver’s goose management tactics have included measures to “haze” or scare the birds and to prevent their eggs from hatching to keep numbers low, Gilmore said. But those measures alone weren’t enough to keep the population in check, so they began to cull flocks in city parks.
The city hires officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to round up the geese and kill them off site, Gilmore said. The meat is then donated to a local food pantry.
Last year, the department rounded up and killed about 1,600 geese, Gilmore said. The program was so successful that this year they only need to kill up to 500.
“That is a third of what we removed last year,” he said. “We’re getting to where we need to be.”
The city did sign an Urban Bird Treaty with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2014 meant to protect migrating birds, Gilmore said. But he doesn’t believe the culling violates that treaty because the city is targeting resident birds and the population has already grown to unhealthy levels.
But of course cutting down the size of the flock is only part of the battle, Gilmore said. While some are happy to see fewer birds, others take great offense to the program.
“People hate me; the voicemails I’m getting are pretty disturbing,” he said. “This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
And while Gilmore said he believes the city’s program is fully transparent, Carole Woodall of Canada Geese Protection Colorado disagrees.
When the culling began last year Woodall said the general public largely had no idea until it was too late. She criticized Gilmore and other city officials for a lack of transparency and said they’re killing geese without support from city residents.
Woodall questioned whether the feces — which she acknowledged can pile up — is anything more than a mere inconvenience. Killing geese to cut down on the problem is a bridge too far, she said.
“There are nonlethal ways to manage and clean the parks,” Woodall said.
But those other options weren’t as effective as Gilmore had hoped, he said, and money and staff are too tight to hire someone to clean up after the geese. Last year’s contract cost about $150,000 and this year’s will be an estimated $50,000, less than it would cost to hire even a single person.
In addition, Woodall said she has seen no proof that Department of Agriculture officials are killing the geese humanely and that the meat is fit for human consumption. A department official did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Despite the disagreements, Gilmore said that the culling will continue this year. He declined to say which parks might next be targeted or when.
While Denver is only seeking to remove about 500 geese, Gilmore said other organizations and property owners in the city can also hire the Department of Agriculture to cull flocks as well.
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