The Problem Of Urban Geese

There’s something about lakes, right? We love them.

But there's something that now comes WITH an urban lake--something that's not so easy to love.

“They’re really a nuisance!” says Denny Arthur of Urbandale glaring at his pock-marked lawn.

“A Canada goose can produce three pounds of droppings per goose, per day,” points out Mike Paine.

“In another month or two, it’ll be almost impossible to walk around,” Arthur adds.

Even now, a stroll is a staggering adventure and the moment you’re distracted -- a mess can end up on the bottom of your shoe.

It’s a problem that concerns every lake in the metro. Every time we make one, we create a setting that’s ideal for us and them.

“Lush green grass—they’re grazers,” says wildlife biologist, Bill Bunger of the Iowa DNR.

“The food source, the water source, that’s what they’re looking for,” says Hope Paine of Complete Wildlife Control.

“If it’s successful one year they’re gonna come back the next year,” Bunger adds.

Arthur, the president of the Lake Halice Neighborhood Association, knows that first hand.

“When I first moved in this area, we didn’t get any geese,” he says. "Now there'll be 50-60 on my lawn at a time."

In the 1960s, there were zero nesting pairs of Canada geese in Iowa. Thanks to successful conservation, there are now more than 75,000. Great for hunters in rural areas, not so great for those of us on urban lakes.

“As soon as it gets a little drier," says Arthur, "where the grass isn’t quite as succulent, they’ll just literally pull it out by the roots and half my yard will be gone.”

But what can be done about them? We asked the DNR.

Can we shoot the geese?

"Um…you could shoot them during the regular gun season, yes," Bunger says.

What about right now?

"Uh, no,” he says.

Even bows, which are helpful in controlling urban deer, don’t work well for geese. In fact, all lethal means are met with pushback.

“I’ve been in that situation where I’ve had to walk away," Bunger remembers, "because somebody over here was telling me this goose is a problem it was pecking at my car, and the lady on the other side of the parking lot says get out of here, don’t touch them.”

One method that can help is goose birth control. Coating eggs in corn oil keeps them from developing.

“It’s a humane way," says Paine, "the Humane Society of the United States endorses this.”

But only a licensed expert like Paine can legally touch the eggs, so there’s another roadblock.

What about predators? Could we bring some coyotes in?

"Ha!" Bunger laughs. "That would bring along some other problems with other people maybe.”

Actually, we’re barkin’ up the right tree. Meet Mac the border collie. He's not a coyote but watch him play one on TV. He’s one of Mike and Hope Paine’s “goose dogs."

“They get used to other scare tactics," Mike says, "but the border collie is the best.”

Both on land and in the water, Mac and the Paines harass the geese into moving elsewhere.

“They get the idea that this is not a safe place," says Hope, "they try to find a safe place to raise their young.”

But they’ll need visit each site several times a day for weeks on end, and that’s not cheap.

“Several hundred to several thousand per month,” Mike says.

For those with the money, Mac is the best solution. Others will need to allow the DNR’s approach of controlled hunts to take effect or push their city governments to take more action—action that residents (many who like geese a lot) must agree on.

“We’re not trying to do these things under the table, so to speak," Bunger says, "we want to make sure that people are aware, they’re their geese—they belong to everybody, quite frankly.”

For my neighborhood, we’ll need to get used to the fact that there is always two sides of nature, one you admire, and one you don’t.