Feature Article - March 2002
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Grounds Forces

The latest challenges and strategies in grounds maintenance

By Mitch Martin


Getting goosed
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MITCH MARTIN
The Rockford Park District in northern Illinois
ran an intensive program in the summer of 2000
to mitigate the Canada goose population,
particularly on park-district property along
the Rock River.

If Carl Spackler went looking for a nemesis in the year 2002, it very well might be a Canada goose. As the human population continues to impact other creatures' habitats, several nuisance animals and insects have cropped up on the well-manicured lawns, trees and golf greens of the United States. Newer threats such as the gypsy moth and the Asian Longhorn Beetle could become dominant problems in the future. But at the moment, there is no more implacable nuisance than Branta canadensis.

Canada geese are attracted to golf courses and many other areas at recreational facilities that provide water formations and food in the form of grass. Sean Kelly, assistant chief of U.S. Fish & Wildlife's Division of Migratory Birds, says despite dozens of strategies used in recent times, the goose nuisances are actually getting worse.

International treaty makes it illegal to kill Canada geese without a federal permit, but the problem has gotten so difficult that the federal government is now allowing a handful of states to issue permits for egg-addling and other lethal strategies without dealing with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife.

Most superintendents are trying, with limited success, to manage the goose problem without lethal means. Below is a partial list of the most popular strategies:

 Border collies and other dogs: Golf courses in particular have used border collies to chase away geese from courses. Many grounds managers says this is one of the most successful strategies. However, it requires constant use of the collies (or other birding or shepherding dogs) to condition and recondition geese to stay away from the courses.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF MITCH MARTIN
Border collies and other dogs used to harass
geese are often outfitted with specially
fitted life preservers for the dogs' own safety.

"I think it's very effective on golf courses, or other places where your people are out there all the time," says Kevin O'Donnell, superintendent of grounds for Villanova University. "We found that it wasn't cost effective for us because at many of our areas, we don't have our guys on site for those kinds of hours."

 Harassment devices: Others have used all manners of noisemakers, including pyrotechnics and fireworks to scare away geese. Long grass along water forms tends to put geese ill at ease for fear of lurking predators. Another interesting technique is to use rubber "dead" geese to frighten away the geese. Perhaps the most novel techniques are kites made to resemble eagles and "scare windmills" with blades covered with ultraviolet paint.

 Lethal and extraordinary means: Some organizations move entire geese populations to an area where they are more welcome. By federal or state permit, professionals can be hired to shake goose eggs or coat them with a chemical to cause the eggs to break open. In some states, organized hunting parties shoot geese and donate the food to local shelters. Some animal rights groups still strongly object to the measure, however.

 Chemical means: Chemical repellents can either produce a bad taste or change the visual appearance of grassy fields to make them unappealing. A chemical called Flight Control is one of the newer, widely used agents. Grounds maintenance supervisors say such products are at least moderately effective.

Todd Cochran, assistant county park superintendent for the Bergen County Department of Parks in northern New Jersey, advises colleagues not to be afraid to use a panoply of techniques.

"Do everything you are allowed to do, and everything you can afford to do," he says.