Goose slaughter at St. Louis park outrages animal-rights activi

Saturday, July 17, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- The quiet killing of nearly six dozen Canada geese from this city's massive Forest Park has angered an animal-preservation group that considers it a needless slaughter.

Without notice June 23 -- during molting season when the birds had no flight feathers with which to flee -- park workers and state conservationists rustled up 69 geese, then shipped them off to be killed and processed. The meat reportedly went to poor people through a Columbia food bank.

Fifty-three goslings that hatched this spring were moved to the Duck Creek Conservation Area near Puxico in hopes they would be adopted by adult geese.

Officials behind the roundup say they had no other choice to stem the geese-created nuisances: orneriness, excessive droppings that foul areas and contribute to water pollution, and prolific vegetation-chomping that damaged the park's golf courses and sports fields.

Such harvests are not uncommon. On July 1 in Maryland, about 100 Canada geese that had lived at the pond were rounded up and killed with carbon monoxide gas as about a dozen opponents yelled "murderers" and "butchers."

Tom Meister, a Conservation Department wildlife-damage biologist, said last month's roundup came only after Forest Park crews proved they tried friendlier tactics to control the birds blamed for tens of thousands of dollars in damage there.

Among those measures: harassing the geese, modifying their habitat and using repellents.

"Roundup is a management tool we take very seriously, and it's kind of a last resort," Meister said Friday.

But a group called GeesePeace St. Louis argued otherwise. To GeesePeace, humane ways -- to some, "goosebusters" -- of addressing the matter might have included oiling the goose eggs to prevent hatching, replacing the eggs with fake ones or bringing in trained border collies to shoo away the geese.

"It's appalling that people don't use humane methods," said Jackie Seigal, GeesePeace St. Louis' regional chief.

"They had a chance to fix this problem the right way, and they chose not to," she said.

Three geese were spared, managing to escape the roundup in a park that, at about 1,300 acres, is several hundred acres larger than New York's famed Central Park.

"When you're looking at a 1,300-acre park, 70 geese is nothing," Seigal said. "And Forest Park is a public park, not a private one. Why didn't the public have a choice?"

Canada geese have ranked with white-tailed deer as among the most successful wildlife rehabilitations in history. They were so heavily hunted that they were virtually extinct in Missouri by the early 1900s, but the population was nursed back to health with the help of birds from private lakes and farms.

The Migratory Bird Conservation Act gave the geese legal protection. Intentionally killing and selling a Canada goose is a felony.

Missouri's Conservation Department has said that from 1993 to 2002, the Canada goose population in the Mississippi Flyway grew from an estimated 800,000 to 1.5 million. During that span, statewide estimates show the population more than doubled -- from 30,000 to 64,000 -- with the state's highest clusters of geese in urban areas.

By law, people or agencies that get a government permit can kill geese if they demonstrate they have exhausted nonlethal means to control the birds, Seigal said.

In 2002, when St. Louis officials were convinced the Forest Park geese population was getting too large, park manager Anabeth Weil complained that the birds were aggressive, their waste was a major problem and "they make salad out of all the plants we have added to the park in recent years."

Still, she said then, the city looked to simply control the number of geese, not eliminate them altogether.

At that time, Seigal recalls, her group recruited dozens of volunteers to scour the park and oil geese eggs in often-elusive nests. But when the group was ready to bring in trained collies to scare off the adult geese, Seigal says, Forest Park scrapped the plan for reasons not immediately available Friday.

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