URBANA – Halt! Put down that marshmallow! Don't feed that fowl!
Signs have gone up at Crystal Lake Park warning animal lovers that they're not doing the geese any favors by teaching them human flavors.
What's good for the goose, and the gander, is goose food – grass and bugs, not bread and candy, says Judy Miller, the environmental program director at the Urbana Park District.
The birds like Crystal Lake and its environs for the same reason they like golf courses.
"Geese don't like really tall grass. They like the short stuff," Miller said. "The park district is looking for ways long-term to manage the population."
They're concerned about water pollution and the spread of disease.
Besides, geese don't need any extra food.
"The problem with feeding geese is it's not good for them," Miller said. "We want them to have appropriate food. They also should be able to find food for themselves. With any population, we want them to be able to sustain themselves."
Geese aren't the park district's biggest pest concern.
"You're not just feeding them," Miller said, "you're feeding a lot of other things, too. Do you really want our rodent population to increase?"
As the food rots, it causes other problems for anything that eats it, she added.
Miller said she understands the urge to nurture waterfowl. "We want to encourage people to come and enjoy them – from a distance. It's hard because we all grew up feeding geese and ducks," she said. "Remember, though, that geese are designed to be very protective of their territory. Their beaks are strong, too."
Park district officials are hoping for cooperation from the public. There aren't any fines involved with feeding geese, according to Environmental Coordinator Nadine Schmitz.
The number of geese will probably continue to grow, and many will adopt Champaign-Urbana as their home.
"Like deer, we've created the perfect habitat for them," Miller said. "It's the number of geese you really want to watch."
Miller noted that other recreation sites have come up with creative solutions to overpopulation, including a device to discourage geese from landing at Morton Arboretum in suburban Chicago, and a dog to herd them at Champaign County's own Lake of the Woods.