City may harass, kill birds
by CHRIS ROGERS
The city of Winona is getting serious in its effort to reduce the goose and duck population at Lake Winona. Last week, the City Council gave its blessing to a plan to pursue modest steps, but council members are already expecting the city may need to take more drastic ones, including hiring licensed professionals to harass the geese or kill them.
Geese and ducks have always frequented Lake Winona, but park goers do not always appreciate their presence. Waterfowl feces can get as thick as leaves on the ground, duck waste contributes to swimmer’s itch, and Canadian geese can be just plain mean, city officials noted. The citizen-led water quality group Health Lake Winona has also been interested in getting rid of waterfowl because they believe waterfowl feces is a significant contributor to excessive nutrients that are polluting Lake Winona. Recently, the city has discouraged park goers from feeding geese and ducks, but now the city is looking at more forceful options.
After working with retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist Eric Nelson, city of Winona Sustainability Coordinator John Howard presented a plan to the City Council. The city should start by drafting an ordinance that would actually make it illegal to feed waterfowl in Lake Park and start enforcing the rule, he suggested. A grant-funded program to install more vegetative buffers around Lake Winona is already in the works and this will discourage ducks and geese because they do not like walking through tall grass, Howard explained. The city could install actual fencing or wire mesh to discourage waterfowl from visiting other areas. Another inexpensive, low-level step the city could take is to purchase decoys shaped like coyotes or other predators, city staff recommended. Howard recommended pursuing all of the above, and the City Council informally approved of the ideas.
Howard said that other cities apply chemicals to park lawns that make the grass taste bad in an effort to repel geese, but that it is a fairly expensive option.
The city sustainability coordinator also outlined more extreme options the city could take, including getting a permit to fire noise cannons and noise bombs or using trained dogs to chase the geese until they leave, a practice officially referred to as “hazing.” The city could also simply start allowing citizens to walk their dogs at East Lake Park, but under the law, people need a permit to allow their dogs to chase or bite ducks and geese. Public works director Keith Nelson said the city fires flash bangs out of a special gun to scare geese away from the airport. It has been very effective there, but doing that at Lake Park would be a little disruptive, Nelson advised.
Winona officials could also try blocking off geese and duck nesting sites, but like hazing and harassment, that would require a permit from the state and the federal government.
Finally, the city could “lethally remove” the geese and ducks. This could be done either by “egg oiling” — literally covering the geese eggs with oil so the eggs cannot breathe and the unborn geese die — or by trapping and euthanizing geese. To receive permits for lethal removal, the city must show that it tried less lethal efforts and they failed, Howard explained.
“It’s a problem,” council member Gerry Krage said of the geese population, adding that it is not just Lake Park, but that geese take over the Minnesota State College - Southeast grounds, too. “They’re basically a gang,” Krage said. He added, “We’ve got to do something because it’s only getting to be more of a problem.”
However, Krage and assistant park and recreation director Patrick Menton pointed out that if the city uses deterrents, it may be simply moving the problem from Lake Park to another location. “We could squeeze the balloon, and they’ll pop up in other areas. It really won’t change that much,” Krage stated. “It’s probably why the egg oiling and removal would be the most effective,” Mayor Mark Peterson agreed.
Howard plans to conduct public information and input meetings in the coming weeks before asking the City Council to formally approve the waterfowl management plan and begin implementing it.