Environmental Almanac: Park district balancing wildlife, human needs

Environmental Almanac: Park district balancing wildlife, human needs

One sure sign that winter won't last forever is the spectacle of geese high overhead, flying north. They're common, I know, but it still brightens my day when I walk out and hear them and have the opportunity to watch their loose V's form and reform. These high-flying geese migrate as their forebears have done for millennia.

Would that we could enjoy all geese from a distance.

Other geese are active now, too, our "resident" Canada geese. You can usually tell resident from migratory geese because they fly much lower as they commute from resting areas to feeding spots around town.

It's resident geese I'm thinking about today.

If you could ask a flock of resident Canada geese for their thoughts on an ideal landscape, here's what they would probably tell you. "Start with a water feature, preferably a pond, and to make it really perfect, put an island in the middle. Surround that pond with level ground that slopes gently to the water's edge and plant that area in a monoculture of turf grass. We like to eat that, and it also allows us to move about freely and see any would-be predators before they can sneak up on us. While you're at it, how about just getting rid of our predators altogether so we can multiply with no natural checks."

If you were to explain to these geese that such a landscape supports very little other native wildlife, they would not care. They're geese.

If you were to point out that the prodigious quantities of poop they produce make that landscape unpleasant or even unusable for people, they would not care. They're geese.

If you were to ask these geese not to multiply so effectively, they'd say, "It's the business of geese to make more geese — whether or not that's good for people or other wildlife. We geese do not think in terms of ecosystems, and we couldn't care less about human needs."

You may recognize the landscape described by our geese around town — at subdivision detention ponds, golf courses and corporate parks, as well as sites under the management of local park districts.

These sites were not created for the purpose of supporting a Canada goose population explosion over the past couple of decades, but they've made it possible for that to occur.

That population explosion has put people who manage such places in a pickle. Take Crystal Lake Park in Urbana, for example. The goose poop there now renders much of the park unpleasant for a walk (even hardcore birders complain) and unusable for children to play or families to picnic.

Park district personnel — who do think in terms of ecosystems and who care very much about the needs of people for outdoor recreation — have run through the gamut of creative devices intended to deter geese without really making any headway. They've hit a wall.

Over the long term, they plan to make landscape changes that will increase biodiversity and promote a more natural aesthetic, which will at the same time reduce the amount of ideal goose habitat.

But in the near term, they also plan to make the park more usable for people again by more active management of the goose population. That means interfering with goose nests and eggs to limit reproduction. And they want the public to understand what they're doing and why from the start.

Toward that end, the Urbana Park District will conduct a public meeting regarding Canada geese on Wednesday, March 4, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Anita Purves Nature Center, 1505 N. Broadway, U.

The agenda will cover the life history of the Canada goose, goose impacts on Crystal Lake Park, a history of their management efforts and recommendations from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Rob Kanter is a lecturer with the UI School of Earth, Society and Environment. Environmental Almanac is supported in part by the UI Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment and can be heard on WILL-AM 580 at 4:45 and 6:45 p.m. on Thursdays.

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rsp wrote on February 16, 2015 at 12:02 pm

These sites may not have been created for geese but they sure look like it. It would be nice if there was a plan to control the population community-wide, where everyone is on the same page. Then maybe we can start working on the groundhogs.

annabellissimo wrote on February 16, 2015 at 3:02 pm

I remember once trying to cross the parking lot of the late,lamented Borders bookstore, near a pond, etc. as described in this article, and finding the parking lot covered/coated in geese droppings. It was absolutely disgusting and almost stopped me from walking on to the store. I walked a very crooked line trying to dodge and avoid that filthy mess.  The Canada geese populations are way out of balance everywhere and they are a pest and problem and need to be gone from these areas where they have taken up permanent and dominant residence. It is predictable that there will be opposition to doing anything that will reduce their populations, but one wonders if there are similar objections to the elimination of other pests like termites, cockroaches, ash borers, etc.  Geese migrations used to be harbingers of Fall and Spring but now they are just harbingers of disgustng filth (and sometimes extremely aggressive behavior)

pattsi wrote on February 16, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Major approach to managing the residential geese has to do with the methods of stormwater management used in this community, aka retention ponds. A few of us keep working toward a major paradigm shift as to eliminating retention ponds and turn to the new theories of keeping stormwater on site using other effective means. And of course if each and every retention ponds was planted with tall native grasses on the pond perimeter and the grasses were not mowed, the geese would not gather at and on the pond.

Last but not least is to encourage all of the communities to pass an ordinance that states, essentially, whenever permeable service is covered and becomes impermeable, the shed off the site can be no greater than it was initially. This triggers in landscape design ideas as to how to keep stormwater on the site rather run into the infrastructure and add to the flooding or go to a retention pond.