Goose banders have had quite a task on their hands
If only Kevin Jacobs was this good at predicting lottery numbers.
Jacobs, a biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, was standing at the end of the drive leading to the Indiana VFW Country Club.
A short distance away, near the club’s lake, was a flock of about three dozen Canada geese.
Jacobs and his crew were preparing to round up the geese just long enough to put leg bands on each. It’s something commission crews do each year as part of a national effort to monitor waterfowl populations.
The geese were molting and flightless, but that didn’t necessarily make them easy to catch.
“They can run. Boy, can they run,” said Jack Schnitzer, a retired Butler County native, as he scrambled to cut off a goose making a break for freedom. “That’s where these young guys come in. I’m good for one run a day, and that’s it.”
Over the last few weeks, biologists banded 3,246 geese, almost half of those in western Pennsylvania counties, including Armstrong, Indiana, Somerset, Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Mercer, and Venango. Each band contains a unique number, along with a phone number hunters can use to report any geese they kill.
Biologists use that data to determine things like survival rates. They also use the information to set hunting seasons and bag limits.
If being a part of this day’s work was exciting for the goose hunters who had volunteered, Jacobs knew that not everyone shared their enthusiasm.
For a large part of the public, resident Canada geese those that don’t migrate but live in the state year round have developed into little more than a nuisance species.
“Can you take them with youâ¢ That’s the first thing we get asked everywhere we go,” Jacobs said.
Sure enough, minutes later, a member of the club’s grounds crew walked up to wildlife conservation officer Jack Lucas, who was assisting with the roundup, and asked that very question.
“I told him that there’s nowhere we could take them,” Lucas said. “Nobody wants them except the hunters, and if we put them on a state game lands for those guys, the birds would fly right back here as soon as the shooting started.”
That’s the dilemma facing waterfowl managers today: what to do with all of these resident geese. It’s a problem that’s gotten worse over the past decade.
In the early 1990s, Pennsylvania was home to about 100,000 resident geese. That’s how many the Game Commission would like to have today. Instead, there are about 290,000.
Trying to get that number down has been problematic. Hunters account for 90 percent of goose mortality in Pennsylvania, killing about 100,000 of the birds, most of them residents, each year. No other state in the Atlantic Flyway achieves a harvest that big.
With each breeding pair of Canada geese capable of producing five to six young a year, though, populations have continued to climb. That might be OK, except that the geese often end up underfoot — or at least their droppings do.
All that goose waste so close to home in yards, on greens, and even state park beeches can make them an unpopular species in a hurry, Jacobs said.
“They become very numerous in short order,” Jacobs said. “And they like the same habitats we like, water and mowed grass.”
Some counties and other municipal entities have taken to addling goose eggs, which means spraying them with vegetable oil to destroy the embryos inside. The USDA Wildlife Services Division also works with communities to limit goose problems.
The issue persists, though, with no real end in sight. Indeed, southwestern Pennsylvania is emerging as a goose problem area, much like the southeast corner of the state did 15 years ago, Jacobs said.
It will be a challenge to turn things around.
“You’re never going to achieve complete satisfaction for all of the landowners across the whole state, the same as with any wildlife,” Jacobs said. “We just have to do the best we can.”