by ZACH KAYSER

 

The city of Winona is putting up a plucky resistance to occupation by Canadian geese at Lake Winona, but the geese are still outstripping their efforts, according to officials. 

From the city’s perspective, the focal point of the goose problem lies not with direct human/goose conflict, but rather the prodigious amount of feces produced by the geese. They emit about two pounds of fecal matter per day each, defecating on average about once every 20 minutes. 

Normally that would not pose a major issue, since Canada geese migrate and would thus go away to sunnier climes come the fall. But as the climate warms and urban development provides more plots of green grass with no predators, geese have taken the heretofore unusual behavioral step of deciding they don’t want to bother migrating. These flocks of “resident geese” have adapted to sticking to one spot more or less year-round; becoming acclimated to people.  

In addition to feces, geese also produce a lot of babies — four chicks per mated pair per year — and live for a relatively long time, about 10 years. All of these factors make it easy for a town’s goose gaggle to grow gigantic, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). 

“At normal reproduction and mortality, a pond or lake with three pairs of adult geese can multiply to nearly 50 birds within five years and to over 300 in just 10 years,” the DNR says on its web page. 

John Howard, the city’s natural resources sustainability coordinator, approached the city in 2018 with a plan that was approved the following year to control the resident geese flock. At the time, the citizen group Healthy Lake Winona expressed fears the geese feces would pollute the lake. Left unchecked, the waterfowl would make the water foul, in that they introduce parasites as well as an unhealthy level of nutrient chemicals. 

Contacted last week, Howard said staff combined with volunteers still remove about 30-50 eggs from nests per year, preventing the embryos from developing. New population was about 20-30 goslings per year, so the city was taking out about half of the new population. 

“Our efforts haven’t lowered the population, but it has kept it from increasing,” Howard said. 

Taking the number of new goslings down to about 10 a year would do a more effective job of keeping the resident gaggle at a stable number, Howard said, but he acknowledged the city was not quite there yet. 

Completely eliminating the geese would be impractical for a variety of reasons, according to Howard. For one, it’s difficult to find eggs. Geese intentionally make their nests difficult to spot and, even if found, can defend them violently against egg thieves. 

“We’ve had the male [in a nesting pair] dive bomb people, and hit people,” Howard said. “They’re basically like a bowling ball with wings — they’re 12, 13, 15 pounds. You don’t want one of those things flying into you.”

Mother Nature also snuffs out some goslings without the city doing anything. Furthermore, if the city eliminated the entire population, other geese from the backwaters might simply move in, Howard said. 

Goose-on-human confrontations in the park are uncommon, Howard said. “Generally, we’re finding the geese — other than taking up space and leaving droppings — aren’t particularly aggressive,” Howard said. 

A visit by the Post to Lake Winona Park on Monday confirmed Howard’s assessment. None of the geese appeared hostile despite runners, bicyclists and other park-goers getting within feet of them. They did, however, produce a lot of feces. Stools littered the grass and paved trail, and some were flattened, which indicated they had been run over or stepped on. 

Lisa Kohnen and Stacy Schultz spent their lunch hour Monday literally surrounded by ducks and geese, but when asked what they thought of them, they said they didn’t mind the geese themselves. It was the fowl’s feces that bothered them. They were on board with the city’s approach of limiting, but not eliminating, the goose population. “They’re not bad to have… there’s just a lot,” Schultz said. 

This year, the city plans on reinstating some deterrents against migratory geese that were previously abandoned because of their ineffectiveness against resident geese. Whereas resident geese have figured out that reflective streamers and coyote silhouettes do not pose a threat, migratory geese could still fall for it, Howard said. 

In the event a goose goes out of its way to confront humans, Howard said that there is a nuclear option reserved by the city: terminating the goose on the spot. Although that had never actually occurred during Howard’s time working for the city, he made a point of saying the city was capable of doing it. “I just want to be clear, that is an option that is on the table,” Howard said. 

City Manager Steve Sarvi said there was no specific, overarching city plan to deal with the geese; rather, Howard’s department was combating them dynamically by trying different approaches. There is a longstanding city ordinance which prohibits people from feeding them. 

The DNR has recently upped the bag limit on Canada geese in the interest of population control. The regular hunting season for Canada geese in the southern zone begins Sept. 25 and the daily bag limit is five birds with a possession limit of 15 birds.

Visit http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/hunting/index.html for more information on obtaining a hunting license. 

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