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Denver Goose Kill Sparks Controversy

Secret Round-up Violates City’s Own Policy

By Cara DeGette

Editor, GPHC

This photo of a goose couple with their goslings was taken last year at Ferril Lake in City Park. Photo by Mark Silverstein

In late June, top officials from the Denver Parks and Recreation department launched, without public notice, an operation to remove 1,662 geese from several city parks, including City Park just west of Park Hill. After the geese were killed, they were processed and, according to the city, their meat given to organizations to distribute to people in need.

The pre-dawn roundups, in the works since last October, occurred the same month that Parks and Rec published a Goose Management Program that includes several proposals to tackle the city’s growing goose population. Among the top recommendations: the critical need for public outreach and support.

The roundups, conducted by U.S. Department of Agriculture workers at an hour when parks were closed to the public, occurred while the geese were in molting season and could not fly, and shortly after their goslings had hatched. 

Parks deputy executive director Scott Gilmore defended the decision, saying the goose populations in some parks had become untenable. 

“We get so many complaints about people coming out here with a blanket to sit on the grass, and they cannot sit on the grass because there’s so much goose poop in the parks,” Gilmore told Fox31. Several city council members, as well as many park enthusiasts, supported the roundups. Others were horrified by the wholesale removal of the animals.

Goose checking out cyclists racing through City Park in 2017. Photo by Reid Neureiter

Several critical details

Lost amid the controversy were several critical details. Most notably, the city’s Goose Management Program, dated this June – the same month the roundups began – includes multiple statements underscoring the need for public support and acceptance of any goose management plan, including lethal control. 

Denver has taken other steps to reduce goose populations, including oiling goose eggs to prevent them from hatching, and using a “Goosinator” machine to harass the geese. 

“Besides hazing and egg treatment, the next most important part of a Resident Canada Goose Management Plan is public outreach and support,” according to the document. (The city’s policy, along with the contract and permit to kill the geese, can be read online here.)  

“The public’s understanding of the specific measures being performed, and their support of those strategies are necessary for the success or failure of a control program.” 

Other sections highlight the need to educate the public via notification boards, bulletin boards or brochures. It was recommended a survey be conducted to gauge public opinion on the city’s goose management plans. “Public relations or outreach is important to success.”  

The Parks and Recreation department did not conduct public outreach or notification before the roundups occurred. Spokeswoman Cynthia Karvaski said the city did not alert the media “for the safety of employees.” 

The June goose management plan describes the possibility of euthanization as a last resort – not as an already decided action plan. However, Denver’s plan to catch and kill the geese and donate the meat to an unidentified source was actually put in motion last fall. 

Contract signed last October

On Oct. 22, the city agreed to pay the USDA approximately $150,000 for goose management and wildlife damage services. The contract, signed by Mayor Michael B. Hancock, named parks deputy director Gilmore as the project administrator. 

Several months later, on June 5, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued the permit to cull as many as 2,200 geese, plus a number of other bird species, including mourning doves, red tailed hawks, great horned owls and mallard ducks. 

The roundups began in mid-June, and continued into July. After several news outlets were tipped of the city’s actions, the story erupted in controversy. Many residents expressed support for the eradication underway. Others were shocked by the sudden removal of the geese. 

One group, Canada Geese Protection Colorado, organized with a mission to promote non-lethal methods of controlling wild birds in parks, and to hold government officials accountable.

On July 23, the national advocacy group Friends of Animals filed a lawsuit against Colorado Wildlife Services, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

The suit, which does not name Denver as a defendant, claims the federal and state agencies failed to conduct any analysis for potential health risks associated with consuming meat from geese that may have been exposed to pollutants and pesticides. In addition, the suit alleges the permit to cull the Denver geese did not expressly allow processing and distributing the birds for human consumption.

After the roundups, officials initially refused to provide details, including where the geese were processed or ended up. They later identified the Denver nonprofit Metro Caring as one of the recipient organizations, but have not said where the rest of the meat ended up. That is also at odds with the city’s Goose Management Program, which specifies, “if [euthanized] birds are to be processed for human consumption, the name of the processing location, costs and final distribution location must be included in the request.” 

Holding officials accountable

Canada geese live up to 24 years in the wild, and mate for life. The Humane Society of the United States objects to killing them simply because they are regarded as nuisances. 

Numerous cities and towns across the country have adopted non-lethal programs for controlling goose populations – including, in Colorado, Greeley and Fort Collins. Asking the public to not feed them, setting up “tolerance zones” and robust public education campaigns are all recommended. Many cities have programs to clean up the goose poop from sidewalks, grass and pathways in the spring, when the geese are molting and when their mess is most annoying.

Christine Franck, a member of the Denver goose protection group, said she is distressed the park she spends the most time in – Washington Park – is now devoid of geese. She wishes that city officials had first tried the other methods their Goose Management Program identified as possibilities, including dog hazing, tapping volunteers to haze and clean up poop, and spraying the grass with a chemical the geese don’t like.

“I recognize that others feel differently,” Franck said. “But whether or not we can agree about the geese, we should all be able to agree that our city should be engaging and informing us, allowing opportunities for public input and alternative solutions.”

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