Geese drop from endangered list |

Geese drop from endangered list

Susan Wood

Move over Bill Clinton.

With soaring numbers topping 37,000, the feathered comeback kids are leaving the Endangered Species list, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported last week. That’s a far cry from near extinction for the Aleutian Canada geese, at one point dropping to about 800 in the early 1960s.

But if you’re business is in grass, man, the prospect of more ravenous and pooping geese isn’t necessarily something to cackle about.

The city of Fremont takes a $10,000 a loss reseeding a city park lawn, after the geese have taken over.

For the dairy farmers of the Pacific Northwest and Central Valley on the north-to-south migratory flyway of the sub-species of Canada geese from the Alaskan island chain, it’s a war to save the pastures for the cows.

The Aleutians don’t cross Lake Tahoe, but their kissing cousins are sometimes a source of frustration to golf course managers, boat owners and homeowners – especially in winter seasons like this one in which the grass shows more than the snow.

“They are a nuisance. All they do is have their droppings everywhere,” said Bob Bonino, Tahoe City Golf Course’s general manager.

Bonino was almost in deep doo-doo with the feds, when he chased the birds off his property with a utility tractor. Now a hired gun, a yellow lab, takes the job for $1 a year, he said.

Like an Audubon version of “Caddyshack,” Bonino has tried a variety of methods to divert the birds elsewhere. Chemicals on the grass have a limited effect on the 100-plus birds that gather there.

Bonino has heard that goose droppings don’t stink, but he begs to differ.

“I can attest, if I mow the fairway, and there are geese out there that have eaten garlic (potato) chips somebody gave them at the beach, their (feces) stinks,” he said.

Bonino has been tempted to use a gun to scare them away, but he’s never taken up hunting. Moreover, his children would never forgive him.

“They don’t even like the deer heads on the (golf course) walls,” he said. “It’s the whole Bambi thing, you know.”

Recognizing the geese as “beautiful birds,” Bonino characterized the line between love and hate as one he teeters on.

Apparently, the attraction is mutual, or fleeting for that matter.

The flocks have virtually ignored their former hotspot of a few years ago at the Tahoe Paradise Golf Course.

General Manager David Beeman has noticed a decline, especially after his kitchen staff stopped feeding them bread.

“We thought it was kind of cute at first,” he said. “But then hundreds showed up.”

These days, Beeman notices more coyotes and lots of feathers, his natural answer to wildlife management and Darwin’s survival of the fittest.

Lake Tahoe Golf Course management was unavailable for comment.

At the Tahoe Keys, boat owners play a game of Twister trying to miss the droppings on their way to their watercraft.

The geese became a public safety issue years ago when the authorities were concerned they’d fly into airplane engines taking off at Reno/Tahoe International Airport.

Making the geese fair game to hunters was a consideration.

“There’s no easy answer,” said Dan Yparraguirre, a California Fish and Game waterfowl specialist.

Yparraguirre insists the overpopulation of Canada geese poses a basic philosophical question: “Do we solve wildlife problem by eliminating wildlife? Where does it stop?”

The Fish and Game biologist estimates Lake Tahoe’s resident and migratory Canada geese will flourish in the coming years.

Of the 13 different types of Canada geese, Aleutians shy away from the high elevation and harsher climate of the Tahoe Basin. Once their goslings hatch in early spring, the females are unable to keep the baby birds alive if a snowstorm hits the area.

Regardless, the Aleutian Canada geese comeback flies in the face of their downward spiral as prey for hungry foxes. Moreover, it’s one of the law’s best success stories for proponents of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The small goose, known for its distinctive cackle and white band around its neck, has joined just a handful of other species to leave the list, including the gray whale and the peregrine falcon.

Recovery efforts that included a captive breeding plan for the geese wasn’t easy, with scientists spending weeks hunkered down in tents, which shredded in gale-force winds and whipped the Aleutian Islands.

Nowadays, the birds – traveling on seven major U.S. flyways – cover about 3,000 miles a week. Bird watchers characterize their early morning takeoff from Castle Rock near the Crescent City, Calif., shoreline as a “once in a lifetime spectacle.”

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