Grappling with geese: Managing the goose menace

Do families picnic at the park along North Street? Do bridal parties, after posing for photos, linger at the park behind City Hall? No and no.

Outsiders may wonder why, but everyone who lives in Milford knows. Geese. The Soggy Truth, a children’s book produced last year by some Milford schoolchildren, interested adults, the Public Health Department and the mayor’s office, shows park turf pecked bare, strewn with feathers and feces. The book’s message? “It’s much healthier for [geese] to eat their natural food, not soggy bread….When they don’t eat lots of bread and popcorn there is less poop.”

The Soggy Truth doesn’t talk about threats to human health. But municipalities have to protect the public. Wildlife specialists at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) list eight general ways for municipalities to get rid of geese.

The best non-lethal method is prohibiting feeding. It’s unpopular, though. Scaring geese with noisemakers, visual deterrents or model airplanes bothers humans, doesn’t last long, and doesn’t send the geese any farther than a neighboring town.

Chemical repellants on the grass are expensive and must be reapplied after each rain. Shining lasers on nesting geese will drive them off their nests, but won’t make them leave town. Habitat modification is the only non-lethal way to keep geese away permanently. Most towns, however, find it impractical and self-defeating to install fencing and plant shrubs around waterbodies or to replant recreation fields and parks with tall grasses and vegetation geese don’t like to eat.

Lethal methods require a federal permit for goose depradation and “bag” limits. Egg addling, oiling, or puncturing are accepted by the public, but, since geese are prolific breeders, more than 80% of eggs must be treated every year in order to control the population, and the labor is too expensive.

Hunting adult breeders is the most effective lethal method, and works well in rural areas, but in suburban/urban areas it’s unpopular and dangerous. The Connecticut legislature passed a law during 2003 that allows goose round-ups. Scheduled for the molting season when geese can’t fly, round-ups capture the geese in portable nets for euthanizing. It’s unclear whether any municipalities have held round-ups during the past decade, or whether public opinion will tolerate them.

The public likes the idea of chasing geese away with border collies. That only moves the geese to another community, and is costly. Couldn’t any canine do the job for free if s/he were allowed off-leash? Ironically, dogs are more at risk for disease from geese than humans, because dogs are attracted to rank smells rather than disgusted, and will eat anything. It’s also ironic that most dog-owners are required to pick up after their dogs, while no one polices goose poop. A situation where dogs are corralled and clean while geese roam free and dirty doesn’t make much sense. We hear talk of needing another dog run in Milford. A goose run would do more good.