Feds change rules so farmers can kill geese
Geese are responsible for millions of dollars of crop damage each year.
Fri, May 21, 2010 at 07:00 AM
GEESE UNDER FIRE: Farmer Dave Black sits on his tailgate with his dog Sam and a cutout of a bald eagle that helps ward off migratory geese on his farm in Charles City, Va. (Photo: Steve Helber/AP)
For a farmer, few things are more frustrating than Canada geese descending like a biblical plague of locusts upon a freshly planted field to feast on soybean or corn shoots.
Grower Dave Black, who farms more than 1,200 acres of corn, wheat and soybeans along the James River southeast of Richmond, has seen "a cloud of geese" glide onto his fields by the hundreds to pick them clean.
"As soon as the corn starts emerging, up to knee high," Black said of the feathered pests that flock on his fields. "They're just back and forth."
For years, growers such as Black had to ask the federal government for permission to kill resident Canada geese if attempts to shoo them off didn't work. By the time they received it — weeks or even months later — the geese had already gobbled up crops and flown away. Now, farmers in some states no longer need the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's permission to use lethal means to protect their fields from geese.
The change in federal rules made in 2007 affects resident geese, not the migratory variety that fly south from Canada in September, and applies to 41 states, mostly in the Atlantic, Central and Mississippi flyways. Those states now can decide whether farmers can use lethal methods to control resident Canada geese, eliminating one layer of bureaucracy.
"The bottom line is it has streamlined the process and made it user-friendly for farmers," said Larry Hindman, waterfowl project manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Geese are responsible for millions of dollars of crop damage each year. An analysis of nine East Coast and Midwest states put total agricultural losses at $3 million in one recent year.
Although migratory geese also can cause crop damage, they are not included in the speedier government process. The problem for farmers is primarily with the fatter resident, or nonmigratory, geese that feast on fields during the growing season. An estimated 3.6 million resident geese are in the lower 48 states.
A federal environmental report found the ubiquitous and adaptable birds' ever-increasing numbers threaten to create more conflicts, with agricultural losses among them.
Resident geese are a subspecies of the migratory birds. They weigh up to 18 pounds, much heavier then the migratory geese, and lay more eggs. They initially were transplanted from the Midwest to the Atlantic states decades ago and were often used as decoys by hunters to attract migratory flocks of geese, according Hindman.
Since then, the birds have multiplied and can be seen on grassy interstate mediums, golf courses and municipal parks.
Farmers have tried a number of things to frighten resident geese: shotgun blasts, fireworks, dogs and even lasers.
"Try to scare them and all they do is fly to another field," said Kevin Engle, who farms in 14 Virginia counties and has used a shotgun and the profile of an eagle to spook the birds.
Biologists say geese ultimately will adapt to noisy distractions intended to drive them away.
"If there's no reinforcement with any of those devices, it's likely to have a very short period where it's effective," said Chris Dwyer, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Humane Society of the United States says it's sympathetic to the plight of farmers but advocates alternatives to killing geese. It suggests "persistent and repetitive" efforts to disperse geese in fields and addling, or shaking, eggs to prevent them from developing and hatching.
"Ultimately, these are the best and most humane ways of dealing with these birds," said John Hadidian, director of urban wildlife programs for the Humane Society.
Before farmers can kill geese, they still must document their efforts to scare them away. Then farmers can shoot the birds, destroy their eggs and nests, and use traps or nets to move them. Nests can be destroyed only from March 1 to June 30; geese can be killed or moved from May 1 through Aug. 31.
In 2008, the latest figures available under the new program, 10,065 geese were killed in the participating states and 5,245 nests were destroyed.
Copyright 2010 AP News