How it all began
During the early 1900’s, hunters decimated the wild bird population. At one time, the passenger pigeon boasted a population estimated around 4 billion. In less than a century, they were no more. The last passenger pigeon died in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo. In 1918, the last Carolina Parakeet died in the same cage that the last passenger pigeon died in. The danger of unregulated hunting was unquestionably real.
During this time, many subspecies of Canada geese were also hunted without regulation. The subspecies known as the giant Canada goose was already thought to be extinct for nearly three decades. That is, until the last flock of giant Canada geese was discovered in Minnesota in 1962.
Upon discovery of this flock, Dr. Harold Hanson of the Illinois Natural History Survey worked with the Minnesota Department of Conservation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to trap and examine these geese. Once convinced that these were giant Canada geese they were examining, great effort was made to move these geese into hatcheries, where they could greatly increase the giant Canada goose population for reintroduction into the wild.
These hatcheries proved to be a huge success at increasing the giant Canada goose population. But why were they breeding so many giant Canada geese, and who was buying all of them? ANSWER: Fish and Wildlife Services. It’s fantastic that they were able to bring the giant Canada goose back from presumed extinction to a sustainable population, but that was not their intention. It was just a side-effect of their true goal.
Indeed, as all of these hatcheries filled up with geese, Fish and Wildlife Services quickly purchased and dispensed all of these geese all over the lower 48 states. Many of these states where geese were released in never had populations of giant Canada geese in them previously! The goal here was to introduce hunting revenue opportunity everywhere. Once again, the giant Canada goose was setup to be exploited. However, there were three big problems that either Fish and Wildlife ignorantly didn’t know about, or they just didn’t care. Based on evidence, I think a combination of the two.
Problem 1: Migration is something that is taught with geese from parents to goslings. What happens if you spend your entire life in a hatchery, then get released somewhere new? You guessed it. These released geese had no knowledge of migration. Instinctively, they will migrate south if food sources are depleted, or water sources completely freeze over during the winter. Other than that, they stick to the same general areas, and once all the ice melts, they come flying back to the general area where they were released, and in the case of new wild hatches, back to where they were raised.
Problem 2: The giant Canada goose is a heavier subspecies of Canada goose. This subspecies being heavier prefers short migrations due to their bulkier size. If the original goal of these hatcheries was to greatly boost hunting stock, Fish and Wildlife services could not have picked a worse subspecies of Canada goose to do this with.
During these initial hatchery releases, everyone thought it was wonderful. Due to over hunting, seeing a flock of Canada geese was a very rare and magical experience. As these newly released geese started finding optimal environments in our cities and suburbs, the magic started to fade away.
Problem 3: The original goal of these hatchery goose releases was for hunting purposes so states could rake in the cash. Well, with all these resident geese content with living in the cities, the hunters had very little opportunities to even hunt these geese. Meanwhile, the migratory geese; sticking with their usual migratory flyways were continuously being hunted. Today, we now have more resident Canada geese than we do migratory Canada geese because of this. The increase in the resident population of Canada geese has nothing to do with geese not migrating anymore. Anyone who states this has no idea what they’re talking about and is passing down misinformation.
Giant Canada Geese in the Cities
Nearly everyone now complains about the large Canada goose population in cities and urban environments and blames the geese for it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fish and Wildlife Services even predicted that the urban goose conflict would happen before they released all these hatchery geese. In chapter 13 of Home Grown Honkers; a Publication issued in 1970 by Fish and Wildlife Services, they predict the conflicts that would happen, but then said “City Dwellers would appreciate being able to see wildlife in the city” as enough reason to continue with the releases.
What is Happening Today
Now during these modern times, communities are wrestling with ways to deal with large giant Canada goose populations in their cities and urban environments. One such entity that offers “help” in this matter is the USDA Aphis division. This branch of the USDA handles conflicts with wildlife in urban and agricultural settings by killing what is considered problematic wildlife. This is highly controversial in regards to Canada geese, as the methods they use to cull populations of Canada geese are cruel. Even though it’s proven that the government is responsible for the overabundance of Canada geese in cities across America, if you want them culled, you have to enlist the USDA and pay them thousands of dollars to do it. That’s right. People and communities that pay for these services are paying the same government that created the problem in the first place! How no one has sued the government for liability in this matter, I have no idea. Meanwhile, the government makes a lot of money in the name of goose killing; whether it be hunting, or USDA culls.
Many people are unaware of all of this backstory, and not all of the community dislikes Canada geese either. Many people also love the geese. They are beautiful birds with fantastic family values that are comparable to our own. Due to this fact, contention among the community arises whenever a goose cull is suggested or implemented.
Humane alternatives that have been proven to work for goose population control are available. Organizations such as Geese Peace and their egg addling program have a proven success record, and it does not involve killing innocent adult geese and goslings, whose only crime is that they’re trying to survive. Community volunteers often provide this service for free as well.
So how would you want to deal with an overabundance of geese? Enlist some local volunteers to help reduce the goose population through egg addling programs, or pay the government; who is already responsible for the large amounts of geese we have thousands of dollars to cruelly gas them in trucks? I don’t know about you, but if someone kicked a dent in my car door on purpose, then told me to pay to get it fixed, I would be furious. Paying the USDA to cull geese is essentially the same thing.
Media Reference Links
The Goose that Conquered America: This video covers the whole story this article is based on. It’s a good watch.
Home Grown Honkers: Available to read for free from Google Books.