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'Fowl play'

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By John Barnhart

    The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was involved in a wild goose chase in the Lake Vista neighborhood in Forest last week.

    At the request of the Lake Vista Property Owners Association, the USDA rounded up 60 Canada geese that form a resident flock in the neighborhood. The meat from the geese, which were killed, was used to provide meat to feed animals at zoos and animal rehabilitation facilities.
    Why was the USDA nabbing geese in a residential neighborhood?
    “Our focus is on the damage that is done by wildlife,” said Carol Bannerman, of the USDA Wildlife Services.
    The USDA Wildlife Services got its start controlling predators that eat livestock and damage wildlife does to crops. They are also involved with controlling bird damage at airports.
    Canada geese can be a problem if there are too many of them in one place and Bannerman said that resident Canada geese in the Atlantic Flyway, which includes Virginia, are overabundant. She said that in 1970 there were 250,000 Canada geese in the Atlantic Flyway. Now, there are 3.5 million. This population has been declared to be 25 percent above the management goal. The management goal is the optimal balance between the positive and negative aspects of this bird.
    Canada geese can cause problems for farmers, and farmers can get a permit from the USDA to remove the birds. They can also get a permit to put corn oil on goose eggs, which prevents them from hatching. They can also authorize an early hunting season for Canada geese, and have done so in Virginia. Bannerman said that in 2009, Virginia hunters harvested 16,000 Canada geese.
     Bannerman said Canada geese have site fidelity. They will mate and lay their eggs in the area where they were born. Without predation, a resident population of geese at a body of water grows unchecked.
    A burgeoning goose population at a small lake in a residential neighborhood can become a health hazard because Canada goose feces contain bacteria that cause illnesses in humans. This impact on humans is most common in summer months. Each Canada goose produces a half pound of feces each day, which means that the 60 geese the USDA captured were producing 30 pounds of it each day. Bannerman said that this increases the bacteria levels in a lake. Large amounts of  goose feces deposited on the ground can be a problem, too.
    “You wouldn’t want to let your kids play baseball there,” she commented.
    Bannerman said that balance is the keyword. The USDA Wildlife Services is trying to strike a balance between the birds and the people who use the yards in the neighborhood.
    She said that prior to doing a goose roundup like the one at Lake Vista, they must get a permit from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service which states that damage is being done. She said they also ask if other methods of controlling the geese have been tried and failed. In the case of Lake Vista, the property owners association had tried oiling the eggs, using chemical repellants and radio controlled boats to scare the geese. Bannerman said that it’s also important to have a “no feed” policy.
    Some of Lake Vista’s resident humans were not happy with the decision to get rid of the resident geese. Steve Neas said he has lived in the neighborhood for four years. He said that there were geese issues there long before he moved to the neighborhood. Neas said he has friends who moved there in 2002 and there were issues then, as well.
    Neas said that he lives in a place from which he can see Swan Lake. Neas said that this is one of two lakes connected by a spillway.
    “Some of the geese use my yard as a passageway between the two lakes during molting season when they can’t fly,” Neas said. He said he’s had between 15 and 20 geese in his yard at a time.
    “They are messy, somewhat,” he said.
    Neas, however, does not approve of the roundup and believes the geese wouldn’t be a problem if the Lake Vista Homeowners Association had been more diligent using other methods.
    “I think it was a poor way to handle it,” he said.
    He felt all other possibilities had not been exhausted.
    “This is a natural area and the geese have been here a long time,” he said.
    Neas does not belong to the Lake Vista Homeowners Association. He and his three neighbors are part of the Forest Lakes Property Owners Association. This is due to the way this area was developed.
    The Forest Lakes group did not agree with what the Lake Vista group did. They mailed a disclaimer to their members stating that they had discussed the USDA Wildlife Service’s capture and kill approach, but decided to continue oiling the goose eggs as their goose population control method, something they have a permit from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do. The notice stated that this method seems to be working.
    “The FLPOA Board is very sensitive to the protection of the native flora and fauna in our community and we want to ensure an ongoing balance in the future by keeping informed and acting responsibly in the best interests and desires of the Forest Lakes community” the notice stated.
    “The two homeowners associations obviously don’t agree on how this whole thing should be handled,” Neas said.
    “I certainly understand that they [the geese] are messy,” he added.
    “This subdivision is built on a couple of lakes,” Neas went on to say. “You are going to get waterfowl. These guys are natural to this area.”