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Park board: Don’t feed the geese

November 15, 2018

Rochester’s Park Board decided to wade into goose-filled waters Tuesday.

The board unanimously directed park staff to develop a plan to deter goose feeding and to start work that could lead to a goose-management plan.

Parks and Recreation Director Paul Widman said the goal isn’t to get rid of the city’s iconic waterfowl.

“Here in Rochester, there’s a great attachment to the geese,” he said, noting the Parks and Recreation Department intends to honor that tradition.

At the same time, he said people’s attachment to the geese has led to actions — namely the act of recreational feeding — that have led to harm.

“They do not have to be fed,” he said. “They have natural instincts that lead them to foraging areas.”

Widman said feeding geese in areas like Silver Lake Park attract more geese than the lake can support, but it also can lead to ailments, such as angel wing. Additionally, he noted the poor diets result in more frequent goose droppings that cover park trails and athletic fields.

The city took steps in 2007 to curtail feeding by removing feeders from Silver Lake Park and erecting a sign in efforts to educate park users of the negative impacts recreation feeding has on the birds, but Widman noted the problem remains obvious.

“Anytime humans and wildlife mix, there’s going to be conflict,” he said.

Park board members indicated a desire to address some of the conflict by finding ways to reduce the number of geese in the city.

Chad Ramaker said he’s heard complaints about the numbers of geese and knows residents consider it a problem to be dealt with, and Angela Gupta voiced interest in finding ways to curtail reproduction to limit numbers.

Widman said the numbers have dropped significantly since council action in 2007.

At the time, the city when tall grass and other native plants were added to Silver Lake’s edge as part of the stormwater management project. In addition to filtering runoff that headed to the lake, the plants proved to deter geese.

As a result, numbers dropped from approximately 40,000 that were reported at one point.

According to the most recent count by the Zumbro Valley Audubon Society, less than 10,000 Canada geese populated the city last year.

Widman said simply modifying potential goose habitat isn’t enough for a successful management plan. He said studies show efforts should include creating adverse conditions for the geese and curtailing reproduction.

While cracking down on recreational feeding may make a site less attractive and could reduce reproduction in some areas, Widman said more will likely need to be suggested as park staff starts work that could lead to a management plan.

Regardless of the efforts proposed, he said future steps won’t be taken without significant public input, which was part of the proposal initiated Tuesday by Park Board member Cydni Smith.

Widman said in addition to seeking public comment on any proposed plan, he expects to review options with the Rochester City Council as discussions continue.

Until future steps are considered, he said the department’s goal is to continue to educate the public and dispel some of the myths surrounding the geese that inhabit the city.

“There’s going to be a learning curve,” he said.

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