The mournful squawks of Mamaroneck Village’s population of Canadian Geese may be silenced this summer if officials go through with a plan to cull the large numbers of birds that have declared residency in Harbor Island and Columbus Park.
The village contracted with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in February of 2012 to gather up an unknown number of geese during molting season—the period from mid-June to late July where geese shed and re-grow their outer feathers—to be taken away and killed. The USDA is one the three federal agencies—including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)—that share responsibility for the geese in New York, according to the DEC website.
“In terms of the inter-governmental agreement between the village and the USDA, it is a minor contract (maximum amount is estimated at about $8,700) that did not require Board approval, but which was supported in concept by a majority (at least four members) of the past Board,” said Village Manager Richard Slingerland, continuing, “I am not sure about the positions of the current elected officials on this matter, but I have not been asked to stop this effort.”
Prior to the goose slaughter, the USDA will also be oiling eggs in order to prevent them from hatching; Wildlife Services [a division of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] will then determine whether or not to proceed based on the numbers of geese that remain.
If they are given the green light to go ahead, said USDA Spokesperson Tanya Espinosa,”Geese are placed alive in commercial turkey crates, and are taken to a poultry processor, where they are humanely euthanized and processed for human consumption following the guidelines set by New York State Agriculture and Markets, NYSDEC Bureau of Wildlife, and New York State Health Department.”
Espinosa said the meat will be donated to a NY-based food or charity organization that requests it.
Although there are no regulations prohibiting consumption of Canadian Geese, said Peter Constantakes of the New York State Department of Health, state fishing and waterfowl advisories recommends consuming no more than two geese per month.
"We have done studies that show that there should not be health risks associated with consumption-but advisories are basic recommendations," said Constantakes.
Though the problems inherent to a large goose population have plagued the village for three decades—which include large amounts of fecal buildup in Harbor Island and Columbus Park as well as overgrazing in lawns—said Mayor Norm Rosenblum, more humane efforts to control the numbers have been unsuccessful.
“My mandate is to address the health, safety and welfare of Mamaroneck Village…it has gotten to a point where it is an environmental and health issue—it becomes dangerous,” said Rosenblum, referring to the concerns that fecal matter may be contaminating local waterways and areas where children play in the park.
Rosenblum said that officers on patrol in the area often have to bring an extra pair of shoes to avoid tracking the goose waste into their homes and cars.
But it’s uncertain what, if any, risk the geese pose to humans other than an annoyance.
In 2011, the village received an EPA violation due to the presence of large amounts of fecal coliform bacteria in local waters. Although there was speculation that the bacteria levels could be related to an aging sewer system or, perhaps, from goose and dog waste, Elias Rodriguez, an EPA spokesperson, said that no source has yet been identified, and that studies are continuing.
In years past, village officials have attempted to deter geese by shooting off whistling rockets; planting tall grasses and natural areas in Harbor Island and Columbus Parks; and even hiring a group that rounded up geese and relocated them to North Carolina, only to have them return shortly thereafter.
Recently, the village invited local dog owners to participate in a goose chasing program at Harbor Island, said Slingerland. The village has also purchased a "goose poop vacuum" that they plan to utilize in the late spring and summer and before major events such as Fourth of July fireworks.
“Our efforts address a major growth in the Canadian Goose population in New York State in general, and Westchester in particular. Population growth is due in large part to the fact that there are great food sources and very limited numbers of natural predators to Canadian Geese in our area,” said Slingerland, adding that the USDA estimates that the goose population in NY State is approximately 250,000, three times what is considered normal.
Although wolves, foxes and coyotes typically feed on geese, they are in short supply in Mamaroneck. And, though crows, raccoons, hawks and owls are known to eat goslings, they are less likely to approach areas with large numbers of birds, said Slingerland.
Some local residents object have not taken kindly to the idea of a goose slaughter though.
“The geese will return, this is not even a temporary measure and is disgusting and inhumane. These are animals that mate for life and are social creatures. They have been part of our village landscape forever,” said Mamaroneck resident Gina von Eiff in an email to village officials.
Kiley Blackman, the founder of Westchester4Geese, has called for a meeting with Mamaroneck officials to reconsider the slaughter. If all goes as planned, she said, the killings should be televised on local cable networks.
“The geese are being scapegoated for an extremely faulty sewage system that has gotten Mamaroneck fined by the EPA for human fecal matter in the water, and it should have been corrected years ago. Residents report finding condoms and worse in the Sound-and it is extremely unlikely they were put there by the geese,” she said in a press release.
Rosenblum acknowledges that the goose slaughter is an emotional issue for many, but that it’s a problem that has gone on too long.
Responding to the criticism of others, he said, “Let them put the herd out to feed in their own backyard.”
For more information on regulations for Canadian Geese, visit the DEC website here.
Editor's Note: Several sentences regarding the safety of consuming goose meat were added to an original version of this article.