Officials say number of resident geese is dropping
By MILES JACKSON
ATLANTIC CITY — Resident Canada geese continue to be a problem in the farm fields of New Jersey.
But population estimates show that efforts to control the non-migratory waterfowl are working, according to state and federal officials.
Although the workshop at January’s state Agriculture Convention had information on permits to control beavers, bear, deer and other pests that destroy or harm New Jersey’s agricultural crops, farmers focused on how they could control the resident Canada geese and questioned official numbers that indicated a decline in the waterfowl.
Adam Randall and Nicole Rein, of the USDA Wildlife Services, said the numbers of non-migratory Canada geese are down to about 73,000 last year, from a high of more than 105,000 in 2006.
More work needs to be done, but the two federal officials said efforts to control the population are paying off.
“There’s still too many, but we’re going in the right direction,” Rein said, noting that depredation permits were only one tool used in bringing the numbers down.
“There’s no one thing that’s going to control the resident geese,” Rein said. “Depredation permits are only one way of controlling the population.”
Besides killing pest geese, Rein and Randall said treatment of nests, use of pyrotechnic or noise devices and other non-lethal methods are not only advisable, but necessary to get a federal depredation permit to kill resident geese.
Unlike state depredation permits for farmers, which are issued for use only between May 1 to Aug. 30, federal depredation permits can be issued for year-round use almost anywhere in the state.
“It takes about six weeks to process a permit application, so if you have problems in October, you should have your application in by August,” Randall said.
And the permit must include some specific information, including:
• Location of property or properties where the permit will be used;
• A list of non-lethal means used previously to control the geese population;
• A list of the actions proposed to carry out the depredation; and
• A list of those who will carry out the depredation, whether it be family members, friends, employees or local hunters.
And the permits are not without restrictions on how the geese can be eliminated, Randall said.
“You are responsible for the actions of those on the permit,” he said. “You need not be present, but you need to list those who will be using the permit.”
The limitations for a federal depredation permit include:
• No blinds, pits or decoys;
• The geese killed must not be used for food.
• Shotgun shells using non-toxic steel shot are the only type of shot allowed to be used. No lead shot is permitted; and
• State and local regulations pertaining to the use of firearms must be followed, although plugs limited the number of shells in pump and semi-automatic shotguns are not required.
State law allows for hunting a limited number of migratory or resident geese during a fall and special winter season and is limited to areas on the southeast and northern part of New Jersey.
Farmers said it was difficult to tell the difference between resident and migratory geese, a point that is important because the migratory geese are protected by federal migratory waterfowl regulations. Randall said.
Mel Henninger, the Rutgers Extension specialist that hosted the wildlife depredation workshop, said telling the difference between migratory and resident Canada geese isn’t all that difficult.
At Rutgers New Brunswick campus, Henninger said resident geese “open up a path to let you through, but close right behind you after you’ve passed. The migratory geese fly away before you even get there.”
How and why Canada geese started to call New Jersey their home year round isn’t all that clear, Rein said. But problems of crop damage, pollution from droppings and competition with migratory species due to the resident Canada geese has grown since the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1993 the resident Canada geese population was estimated to be 37,000 and the numbers increased for the next 13 years before a decline was observed.
Today, resident geese have evolved into a separate population with distinct physical characteristics that separate them from the migratory population. The most noticeable difference is size, Rein said, with resident geese being significantly larger than their migratory kin.
And the resident population isn’t about to get up and fly away regardless of how uncomfortable or deadly efforts to control them are, Rein said.
“They are born here,” she said. “They have no instinct to migrate.”
While depredation permits are issued to individuals and business, Rein said there is nothing to stop a community from taking action against resident geese that harm crops, lawns or foul waterways with droppings.
“There can be a community effort to round up geese and euthanize them,” she said. “After a few years, you’ll generally see a decline in the local population.”
Meanwhile, farmers trying to control the resident geese are still overwhelmed despite the decrease in numbers.
“You say there’s only seventy-some thousand of them, but I’ve seen places where there’s probably seventy thousand in one area,” said a Burlington County farmer.
Several farmers said they had given up growing wheat, a perennial favorite of the geese, because of pervasive damage.
Rein and Randall encouraged the farmers to develop a comprehensive program to deal with the resident geese. And know that the agricultural community isn’t alone in feeling the detrimental effects of the resident geese population.
Besides the damage done by feeding, Rein said a single goose can produce a half pound of droppings a day, something that has an effect on lakes used for recreational and commercial fisheries or even drinking water.
And the resident geese also compete with migratory birds of all types for natural feed sources such as wild rice, said Doug Ely, a conservation officer with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.