Canada Geese love the Grand River and the parks in Eaton Rapids, it’s very obvious. The city estimates that over 1,120 of these large waterfowl live within the six parks in the city. They are beautiful birds and add natural charm to the area. Geese also help as seed dispersers by eating plants in one place and depositing the seeds in another through defecation. Their feces, in moderation, can add nutrients to the soil. They, and their eggs are part of the food chain for other species.
But on the other hand, geese are known to negatively impact crops, raise concerns about human health and safety issues, and often do damage to residential, commercial, and public property.
“It’s not so much the number of geese, as it is the safety issues and concerns,” said Lindsey Zeller, Quality of Life Director for the City of Eaton Rapids.
“The City receives a significant number of complaints regarding goose poop in the parks and other public amenities,” said Zeller. “There is also the issue of aggressive geese, as the birds have become very territorial over the years.”
“I know it’s a large multi-year effort, but the people of the city have expressed concerns about this issue for quite some time,” said City Councilman Bill Steele, “and this approach may be the best way to create change that will enable folks to start enjoying the parks again.”
To help address the Canada Goose situation, the city has hired Goose Busters from Holly, Michigan. Goose Busters has been in the business since 1997 when they were hired to relocate geese for the State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The city has signed a nine-month service contract with the company to help deter geese from the city’s park system.
The service will cost taxpayers just over $11,000.
Other methods have been used to deal with the geese in the parks over the course of the last three summers. Dog decoys were installed. The plants along the river’s edge were left unmowed and allowed to grow tall to discourage birds from coming ashore and nesting. Humans were instructed not to feed and interact with the fowl. All proved unsuccessful.
With input from the DNR and the United States Department of Agriculture, it was decided to combine dog harassment along with goose relocation to deal with the situation. Evidence shows, Zeller said, that over a course of multiple years this will cause the geese population to decrease.
The dog harassment phase was started on March 1, and the relocation of geese, which requires a permit from the state, will begin in the summer. The initial “treatment” is expected to last 10-11 months and will need to be repeated to maintain the effect.
“The DNR determines where the birds are relocated to. Goose Busters must contact the DNR in a predetermined amount of time prior to the roundup and then the DNR tells them specifically how many to relocate and where,” Zeller explained.
There are no plans to kill any of the geese, Zeller said.
“Some of the birds will come back in the spring, which is why we need a multi-prong approach. No one approach will be the solution.,” she said. “We plan to participate in this program year after year so the number of birds that will return during spring migration will reduce year after year.”
Trained border collies will work several days a week at varied times throughout the day. They are trained to safely move the birds without harming them, known as “harassment,” according to Goose Busters. Even if the geese go into the water the dogs will move them out of the water.
The theory is that repetitive canine harassment will instill fear and convince the birds to find a safer place to forage and nest, says Goose Busters.
Not everyone agrees with the use of this service, however.
“I feel that our town will lose some of its charm by removing the waterfowl from the river and park areas,” Danielle Raad, a local resident, said. “I think a better solution is to work with nature and instead hire a cleanup crew from time to time.”
The whole effort is regulated by the Department of Environmental Quality and other state agencies for compliance.