We live among millions of signs which suggest larger processes around us. One everyday sight in Marion County is the Canada Goose, which residents curse for their droppings and their potential for hazard at our airport. But we are involved with this specieson every level.
Canada Geese are native to the Americas; fossils of their ancestors have been found from over a million years ago. For ages they migrated twice yearly from Canada and the Northern U.S. to the southern U.S. and Mexico, using a
route called the Pacific Flyway.
Suddenly, recently, Canada Geese have altered their ancient behavior. In 2006, Audubon International wrote, “Many geese are no longer migrating great distances, but are forming resident populations that remain within a limited geographic area. Of concern are the dwindling numbers of Canada Geese that breed in the arctic and sub-arctic.”
In defiance of eons of habit, some flocks do not migrate at all now, but linger year-round in areas of the U.S. and Canada, Florida – including the Willamette Valley, which hosts an estimated290,000.
The first reason science gives for the change is that humans have transformed the primordial home territory of geese. As much as 70% of Canada’s original wetlands have been lost to agriculture and urbanization. People have also impacted the southern end of the migration; Cornell Lab of Ornithology says the birds no longer travel as far south because of “changes in farm practices that make waste grain move available (further north) in fall and winter.”
Another factor is that people hunt Canada Geese. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says 3.5 million geese were shot for sport in 2008 and 2009, out of an estimated 6 million birds. Any mass death leads to population adjustment.
Most importantly, the bird’s old routes have been altered by climate change. As regions warm, migration moves northward. U.S. Migratory Bird Joint Venture says, “climate change has warmed Arctic habitat at twice the rate of more southern ecosystems.”
The Willamette Valley, like many areas, has found year-round geese populations problematic. The birds congregate in grasslands like those of Marion County grass seed farmers – whose crops they destroy. Within town limits they seek airports, parks, golf courses and medians because they can digest lawn and because grass provides view of possible predators. They despoil these public areas. They also cause airplane crashes.
Around the world thousands of Canada Geese are now culled. They are destroyed in the U.S. as well; 1509 were killed in New York City in 2010.
In Madison, Wisconsin, 350 were killed in 2011;100 in Bend, Oregon in 2010. Parks and Recreation departments capture birds in June when the adults have molted and cannot fly (and goslings are still unable) and truck them elsewhere to be gassed.
Since 2009, Oregon has used a Goose Control Task Force under the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. In 2011, to reduce damage to Willamette Valley crops, an agreement was reached to allow farmers allowed to hunt geese on traditional “non-hunt” days between March and June, and the USDA has begun an “Open Fields” program that allows hunters access to ranch property to shoot geese.
In 2007, dcist.com reported that 600 Canada Geese who ate important marsh grass were slated to be killed. An observer said, “While every animal, no matter how ugly or useless, has its defenders, no one seems to like Canada Geese. Better yet, everyone seems to want them dead.”
The story Canada Geese tell us describes conflict between people and wild creatures. The tale takes a familiar course: human beings alter the world and force a species we don’t think much about to adapt.
The result is an entity we find a pest, an adversary and a nuisance.