MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Now, the Washington region isn't just a popular destination for human immigrants, all sorts of animals find their way here too. And when those animals refuse to migrate back home, that can cause big problems. In this case, we're talking about non-migratory Canada geese, which live here year round and are creating big woes for the environment. Environment reporter, Sabri Ben-Achour, finds out why these birds stick around and what people are doing about it.
MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR
Selby Beach in Edgewater, Md. is a serene place. Two small children are playing in the sand.
MS. JAMIE PHILLIPS
My granddaughter and my niece, four and six.
Jamie Phillips hangs out here a lot, but recently her beach was closed for a while due to high levels of bacteria in the water. Fifty feet away, the cause is not hard to find.
Oh, yeah, there's crap all over the ground.
Canada geese have left their mark here.
They are doing nothing but polluting the water. They come in flocks of 30, 40, 50, 60 and when they do their duty in the water, it's putting bacteria where our kids can't go in.
The birds produce a pound of bird poop every day and it adds up fast.
There's too many bad things happening with the water and people getting sick. And I just don't want it for my kids.
Erik Michelsen is executive director of the South River Federation. It's a conservation organization. He says the bacteria problem is wide spread. He also says the Canada geese that cause it are probably not actually from Canada.
MR. ERIK MICHELSEN
There are resident geese that have set up shop all around the rivers here on the Chesapeake Bay that, basically, are non-migratory that stay in these areas and linger and feed and, you know, make messes all over the place.
Migratory Canada geese spend the winter here and then go north for the spring and summer. These geese stick around, year round. And they aren't simply a nuisance to people.
The geese that are here on an annual basis feed on the aquatic grasses which are already very stressed in terms of water quality issues.
Aquatic grasses are essential to the Chesapeake water shed. They reduce erosion, oxygenate the water and are habitat for young fish and crabs.
The ecosystem adapted under a regime where the birds, you know, flew in during the winter and then left, whereas now we've got this continual pressure on the resource.
But why wouldn't these geese migrate?
MR. LARRY HINDMAN
They're genetically different.
Larry Hindman is Water Fowl project leader with Maryland's Department of National Resources.
They basically are decedents of races of Canada geese that originated in the upper Midwest and in southern Manitoba.
They came to the East Coast, thanks to people.
Well, in the early 1900s, some hunters purchased geese from the Midwest and they used them as live decoys to lure migratory geese.
But by 1935, hunters were no longer allowed to use live decoys so they let their birds go. And then, for a while, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service was buying birds to stock their wildlife refuges. So whereas there were 20,000 non-migratory geese in captivity on the East Coast in 1935...
Over the years, they've increased in number to more than a million and a half birds today.
That's more than the migratory geese now. In Maryland, liberal hunting regulations have taken the population down overall, especially in rural areas where their numbers have fallen by half over the past 10 years. But in sub urban and urban areas where hunting isn't practical, legal or accepted, the birds numbers continue to increase.
MR. DAVE MARCKS
We get a lot of calls during nesting season, emergency calls like oh, my gosh, there's a goose, you know, swooping down, attacking people. You know, they clog up the mowers, erosion problems, algae in the pond, attacking golfers.
Dave Marcks runs the Geese Police. They sometimes will oil eggs to keep them from hatching, but mostly they use border collies to drive out goose populations without harming them.
We drive around and herd geese all day. You know, it's literally a wild goose chase.
His brother Doug says not everyone resorts to such a humane approach.
MR. DOUG MARCKS
They'll round them up and they'll either gas them and they've been also gassing them and then feeding them to the homeless. That's like in New York State they're doing that. Around here, we hear of different areas where the police will come in and the silencers and they'll round up a bunch of them while they're molting and they'll kill them all.
With a few commands, two collies, Scott and Max, herd a group of geese off the grass in an office park.
That'll do, Scott, come on.
A few geese gone for the moment. But with many, many other gaggles of geese choosing to call this region home, Doug and Dave, say business is booming. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.
If you have a lot of Canada geese in your neck of the woods, we want to know, are they friend or fowl? E-mail us at email@example.com or visit us on Facebook, that's facebook.com/metroconnection.org.
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