Wildlife Technician, United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services
Cary Furlo is a wildlife technician for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services Division, U.S. Department of Agriculture. A veteran of the U.S. Army and of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he conducts wildlife management projects and consults with property owners and municipal organizations on wildlife management and control. He has an A.S. degree from Pennsylvania State University and is pursuing his bachelors degree.
There are three subspecies of Canada Geese in Pennsylvania, two of them migratory and one that is resident year around, having lost its instinct to migrate. The resident birds are thought to be descended from birds brought here in the 1930s from the upper Midwest when Canada Geese numbers were dangerously low. Since those geese didn’t migrate in Minnesota and Wisconsin they also didn’t migrate in Pennsylvania. The resident population has few predators and thus has multiplied to levels that pose threats to human health and safety, agriculture, natural resources and property.
Since the geese live in large numbers near bodies of water, they pose a threat of spreading diseases like Cryptosporidiosis, Salmonella and E. Coli through their feces. They also pose considerable danger through potential collisions with vehicular traffic and collisions with aircraft. In spring during breeding and nesting season, they can be especially aggressive, posing a threat to recreational users of resources where they nest.
Crop damage from these geese can be particularly acute. They can devastate corn fields by pulling up and eating the newly emerged seedlings. They also pose a threat to other crops such as wheat and soybeans. In large numbers, they leave land vulnerable to erosion and pastures covered with feces that can infect grazing animals. Their impact on natural resources includes loss of native species of vegetation, sedimentation and erosion. Their presence can detract from the usability and value of private property.
The best approach to limiting the damage is to use an integrated system with four components — cultural practices, habitat management, behavioral modification and population management. Cultural practices include denying them feed and removing domestic and feral species of waterfowl. Habitat management includes letting grass grow six to ten inches tall (since geese like short grass), planting less desirable species of grass, and placing or planting natural barriers to their pathway for landing on water.
Behavioral modification includes visual deterrents like flags and scarecrows, harassing sounds and deterrent dogs. Population management includes legal harvest, reproductive management by spraying eggs with vegetable oil so they don’t hatch and, when legal, capture and euthanasia. There is no quick fix for goose problems but an integrated approach can work.
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