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Good for the Goose? Local golf courses learn to deal with waterfowl problems
August 14, 2009
editor@montanaliving.com


Canada geese walk across the 15th fairway at Buffalo Hill Golf Club in Kalispell. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering giving states more freedom in dealing with resident Canada goose problems. Dave Reese photo
By DAVE REESE

A dozen Canada geese and their goslings waddled across a fairway Tuesday at Buffalo Hill Golf Club, oblivious to the golfers walking nearby.

The geese slipped into a small pond, swam across, then climbed out the other side and joined another fairway, ducking out of the way of an approaching golf cart.

For golfers, Canada geese are loved and they're vilified.

Mostly they're left alone.

But golf courses and parks managers around the country are having to come up with new ways to deal with golfer/goose problems.

Geese leave calling cards the size of toothpaste tubes on golf courses and not all golfers are happy to wipe the gooey mess off their shoes and golf balls.

The problem has gotten so bad in some U.S. urban areas that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last fall released an environmental impact statement to deal with resident Canada goose populations. The final study gives states increased freedom to control Canada goose populations through hazing, capture and hunting, although it's not likely people ever will see a hunting blind on a water hazard at a local golf course.

There are ways to control the geese - some more effectively than others. Predators such as foxes and coyotes can help reduce populations, and some golf courses have used trained dogs to haze geese off the greens.

They tried that at Eagle Bend in Bigfork, "but the geese just outsmart the dogs," head PGA professional Michael Wynne said.

Instead, Eagle Bend, with oversight from wildlife officials, installed over one mile of two-foot-high chicken wire around the worst goose-affected areas on its Lake Nine course.

The system has worked effectively, Wynne said.

The small, unobtrusive fence limits the ability of the geese to exit or enter the water from the golf course - in effect, removing their security cover. Even though Eagle Bend adjoins a wildlife area along the north shore of Flathead Lake and is adjacent to the Flathead River, the geese prefer the short, green grass of the golf course.

"We get numerous complaints from our members," Wynne said. "It's not the geese, it's the droppings. It makes it nearly unplayable when the greens and bunkers are covered in goose droppings."

So far the system has worked, and Eagle Bend will continue to add fencing along its water hazards.. "We're just going to keep pecking away at it," Wynne said. "It works, everyone is happy and the geese don't get harmed."

AT BUFFALO HILL GOLF Club in Kalispell, geese are abundant but have not become a problem that needs to be controlled - at least not yet, according to course superintendent Jon Heselwood.

"We don't have a huge population, and it seems to be fairly constant from year to year," Heselwood said, "and it's kind of fun to see the little goslings."

Geese can be aggressive toward people, and they are known to aggressively eat the grass, sometimes on the putting greens where they pull up small patches, Heselwood said.

The jury is still out on how Buffalo Hill Golf Club will address the issue, if at all.

"Some golfers love them and some want them all gone," Heselwood said. "It's that extreme. We have one member here who was adamant about getting rid of all of them, and there are others who enjoy the wildlife. We just enjoy them and tolerate them."

Still, Heselwood has played golf courses "where it's awful," he said. "There are places where you cannot take a step without stepping in feces, for hundreds of yards. I've seen it be excessive."

Other states have it worse than Montana.

New Jersey culled 7,000 geese in 2004 from its population, and that "created quite a social stir," said Nicholas Throckmorton, spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The "toolbox" approach to the new federal rules will give states "a lot more flexibility in managing resident Canada geese," Throckmorton said.

Until the new rules are put in place, government agencies in Montana could apply for permits from the Fish and Wildlife Service to control Canada geese populations by addling the eggs (shaking or covering with oil), destroying nests or culling birds.

Canada geese need water and grass, so city parks, golf courses and urban areas are prime spots for geese to set up residency.

"Life's pretty good for a resident Canada goose," Throckmorton said.

Geese are managed by hunting according to their flyways. Montana is a "two flyway" state. The Pacific flyway runs north/south near Havre, while the Central flyway covers the eastern portion of the state.

According to Rick Northrup, bird manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Helena, geese numbers in both flyways are up considerably.

Throckmorton said there are roughly 500,000 resident Canada geese in the Central flyway, which includes parts of Montana from Yellowstone National Park eastward. The population targets are 368,000 to 448,000 resident Canada geese.

There are a few reasons why the resident, nonmigratory Canada goose populations have increased over the years.

Up until 1930, hunters used live geese decoys by capturing a goose and tethering it to the ground. When that practice was made illegal, the geese were released and they remained there, since they did not know how to migrate south in the winter, Throckmorton said.

Also, in the eastern United States, some states were capturing their overgrown populations and shipping them to other states. "They forgot how to migrate," Throckmorton said. "It's mostly a human-created problem."

On the Net:

www.migratorybirds.fws.gov
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