WILSONVILLE, Ore. — Charbonneau Golf Club in Wilsonville had such a problem with Canada geese that members who had been with the club for decades stopped playing, golf director Chris Bensel recalls.
Then Charbonneau reached out to Geese Guys, the first wildlife management company in the Northwest to use Border collies to shepherd these stubborn populations elsewhere.
The course’s geese flock went from more than 1,000 nine months ago to 16 as of July 30, Geese Guys co-owner Kristen Grompone said.
Now the company is in talks with Portland Parks &Recreation about addressing the city’s abundance of geese. Human Access Project, a non-profit group promoting usage of the Willamette riverfront, has offered to pay the cost of a three-year pilot project at Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
The problem the company offers to solve is big.
Geese leave two to three pounds of fecal matter per adult, every day. Human Access Project shelled out $1,000 last week for a crew to rake goose droppings off the grass in Tom McCall Waterfront Park before participants in the annual Big Float event could wade into the water.
The cleaning took six hours.
Parks officials are listening to the Geese Guys’ pitch. Officials from the company, the Human Access Project, the Audubon Society and parks bureau met July 21.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz also spoke with Human Access Project and Geese Guys representatives last month. According to Willie Levenson, head of Human Access Project, she expressed her support. A representative in Commissioner Fritz’s office confirmed that she’s intrigued by the idea and would like to learn more.
So how did we get to this point?
In some ways it’s simple.
“People love large expanses of grass next to water, and so do geese,” Grompone said.
Canada geese nearly went extinct in the early 1900s due to over-hunting. With protections established through the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, their populations slowly rebounded but some sub-species, like the Duskie, remain endangered.
According to Bob Sallinger, conservation director at the Audubon Society of Portland, historically Canada geese wouldn’t spend much time in Oregon.
“What you had was a temporary stopover,” he said. “That’s really changed in the last half-century.”
Municipalities throughout the country introduced the then-exotic geese into local parks as the urban renewal projects of the 1950s created ideal goose habitat.
In urban areas, few predators like coyotes prey on them. Geese will eat just about anything, and people often oblige the birds’ appetites with bread and other snacks. They also breed prolifically, with 5 to 8 goslings in one season.
Increasingly accustomed to the perks of urban life, some of the geese that humans invited in stopped migrating.
“It was well-intentioned, but now they’re beating out everything else,” Grompone said.
Cities have struggled to respond. Seattle began transporting its geese eastward in the early 1990s, and then in 2000 rounded up and killed more than 3,000.
Seattle officials likely haven’t forgotten the protests that these measures sparked.
According to Sallinger, of Audubon, this practice of culling geese is both controversial and unproductive.
“It’s not worth it — it angers people and isn’t effective,” he said. “Time and again people have found that the populations are just replaced by others.”
Border collies, say Geese Guys representatives, can be more humane and effective.
At the Charbonneau golf course, Fish, a four-year-old collie, encircled a family of five geese in a pond just off a green one afternoon last week.
As he swam towards the birds, they started honking with agitation. For a while, he stared. According to Grompone, that unnerving attention is what makes Border collies especially effective.
Most dogs simply pursue, which would startle geese but not serve as a long-term deterrent. Although the Border collies never attack the birds, they play the role of a predator.
After Fish did the hard work, Grompone eventually grabbed a kayak to give the stubborn geese a last push out of the water. As they flew away, a group of golfers cheered.
“These guys have a legendary reputation around here,” Bensel said. “It’s been a huge change for us.”
Geese Guys planned to be back the next day to remind the birds they weren’t in a geese-friendly zone.
What motivates Grompone, a former wildlife biologist, isn’t necessarily pristine fairways but healthy ecosystems.
Not only does goose waste deter people from using public spaces, it degrades nearby water quality. With more frequent algae blooms, fish populations die off. In turn, eagles, ospreys, peregrine falcons and other native hunters go elsewhere.
“I don’t see the geese as pests,” Grompone said. “But things are out of balance. We’re trying to encourage ecosystem resilience.”
Whether or not Border collies will soon start patrolling Portland’s downtown waterfront remains an open question.
Initial cost estimates for Tom McCall Park are $15,000 the first year with a 10 percent reduction each of the two following years. Human Access Project would cover this cost, with a discount from Geese Guys for event sponsorship.
Parks officials have said they want to find a holistic approach that covers a variety of goose hotspots. And if the city wanted to address more than Tom McCall Park, funding could become an issue for the parks bureau, which, as spokesman Mark Ross emphasized, has faced five years of budget cuts. Still, this is a problem that he admits will only get worse.
“Managing geese is something that almost every municipality is facing,” he said. “There’s just no reason for them to leave.”