Spokane geese worthy of study

SPOKANE – The state is studying whether more Canada geese are moving permanently into the greater Spokane area.

Rather than migrating each spring and fall, large flocks of geese seem to be taking up full-time residence in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

“They have plenty of water for safety, plenty of grass for food and not too much exposure to predators,” said Mikal Moore, a waterfowl biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, explaining why the geese are staying.

Prompted by rising complaints about goose droppings, Fish and Wildlife this summer trapped and collared 28 adult geese in two areas that seem especially popular with the birds: Gonzaga University’s soccer fields and The Creek at Qualchan golf course. An additional 61 juvenile geese were given leg bands.

Over the next year, with help from citizen observers, the agency hopes to learn where the geese live. The information is the first step in developing an urban goose management plan, Moore said.

“We don’t know anything about their movement patterns: whether they stay in Spokane all winter, whether they migrate, whether they’re exposed to hunting,” Moore said.

When the agency conducted a similar study of urban geese in Clarkston, scientists discovered some of the resident geese do migrate – a little bit.

“Clarkston geese moved between Clarkston and Spokane,” Moore said. “They went from one urban environment to another, but they never spent any time in traditional goose areas.”

Upward of 50 geese at a time can be spotted on Gonzaga’s soccer fields, said Dale Goodwin, a spokesman for the university. The mess has become a safety and health problem for athletes.

“They’ve got goose poop all over their shoes and knees. They slide on it,” Goodwin said, adding the university has few options to keep the geese off the grass. “About all we can do is chase them off.”

North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene banned the feeding of geese last year along most of its beach area. But people continue to feed the waterfowl, and portions of the beach remain slathered in droppings, college spokesman Kent Probst said.

Although the region’s geese might no longer join their cousins on long migrations each spring and fall, the birds remain protected under federal law, said Tom Buckley, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Spokane.

Killing the geese or removing their eggs is illegal without a federal permit.

Some communities, golf courses and airports have obtained permits to control their resident geese flocks, Buckley said. The methods of control include using trained dogs to chase the geese, expanding hunting seasons, gassing the birds or slathering newly laid eggs with corn oil to prevent embryonic development.

Buckley said geese shouldn’t be blamed for setting up housekeeping on the grass.

“When humans create these beautiful lawns and put them near a water source, it creates a natural attractant and habitat for the geese. It’s that old adage: If you build it, they will come,” Buckley said.

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