|Pender Island golf course on a January day|
I've written about this before, but it seems like there are more Canada geese than ever on our farm. There is a golf course just down the road at the end of our valley, and we have big open fields, inviting ponds, and a very attractive place for Canada geese, it seems. Sometimes there are so many of them it is a bit like an old Hitchcock movie.
Prior to the 1960’s Canada geese sightings were rare treats but now they are commonly seen year round, and are more numerous each year. In the period from 1965 to 1995, the Canada geese in the Christmas bird count in the Fraser Valley increased 50 fold. Where no more than 200 Canada geese were seen in Victoria in the 1970’s, now over 5,000 are counted each winter. I can easily count over 200 Canada geese on our farm alone in the winter. The resident non-migratory geese made up 18 per cent of the North American total in 1970; now they account for 67 per cent. So what has happened?
Since the early ‘70’s Canada geese numbers have been increasing significantly due to a perfect storm of events. A successful conservation program was launched across North America in the 1960’s by various wildlife agencies to restore numbers of geese reduced through years of hunting and habitat loss. The program was also intended to boost Canada geese numbers for recreational hunting purposes. In Canada there are 11 subspecies of Canada goose and eight of these live in B. C., but the two subspecies that were introduced through this program were resident, or non-migratory, geese not common to this area. The parallel increase in growth of urban and suburban communities with manicured lawns, golf courses and airports and lovely ponds made for the perfect Canada goose habitat. When we add restrictive hunting and firearm regulations and a lack of predators we have indeed created the perfect storm of events.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that farmers view Canada geese as pests. Forage producers watch as hay and grain fields are demolished in a feeding frenzy by these foragers, which consume up to 4 lbs. of grass each day, depositing 2-3 lbs. of fecal material. A few years ago we spring-planted two fields with oats and millet, and watched as hundreds of Canada geese ate the crop while it was trying to grow. The geese kept the area stripped clean and the only crop we ended up with were thistles. After a lot of work dealing with thistles and re-working the fields with a fall-plant of rye and grass I hope our goose problem will not repeat itself. It takes daily visits to chase the geese off, though. Some farmers use dogs, balloons, decoys, barriers, fences, and propane cannons to keep them from eating crops.
Not just grass and grains can be affected. Crops like leafy salad greens, cabbages, potatoes, carrots, corn and blueberries are also eaten by Canada geese. It is estimated that the annual damage to all farms in the Saanich Peninsula and Metchosin area is $300,000 per year.
The ground next to the ponds is compressed and especially lacking in vegetation. This is only compounded by the fact that the federal government has been encouraging farmers over the past few years to dig more ponds to enhance our water storage.
Now, some might suggest that golf course managers might think a bit about working with these lawn mowers with wings, since they produce fertilizer and keep the grounds manicured. But they are in fact viewed as an unappealing nuisance since the fertilizer tends to be slippery underfoot and muck up the golf balls. Recently our local golf course has placed two lights that flash all night to keep the geese from resting overnight on the course. I noticed that the geese still are on the golf course during the day, but they did seem to vacate the area near the lights in the evening. The bad news for us is that I think this might just move them down the valley to our farm. Perhaps we should try some strobe lights and other deterrents as well, because the geese are very noisy at night on our farm.
There are also public health concerns since Canada geese can contribute to Giardia, Cryptosporidium and Campylobacter outbreaks. As I walk our farm each day checking the new lambs, I can’t help but notice the incredible amount of goose droppings and the effect on our grass growth.
So what can we do? Increasing populations of Canada geese have prompted several communities to control resident flocks. The CRD is currently developing a regional Canada Goose Management Plan because of the effects on our recreational areas, airports and farms. The federal Wildlife Service has produced a handbook for Canada goose management and population control. The handbook has several good suggestions that can be used to discourage Canada Geese through the understanding of their biology. Some methods do not require permits. In the 1970s, the Wildlife Service began to issue permits to property owners whose crops were being ravaged by foraging Canada geese. Some resourceful individuals have killed two birds with one stone, so to speak, by gathering and eating Canada goose eggs. Southern BC allows for more than one hunting season for Canada geese. With resident Canada geese populations growing at a rate of 12% or more per year there will most likely be a peak and leveling off of goose numbers at some point, but not before they go from nuisance to serious problem.