JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — When Hunter’s Lake homeowner Susan Carson saw the agenda item for the homeowner’s association March 22, the bird lover knew she didn’t want to miss the meeting.
Along with mundane items like dog waste bin installation and “Darlene Francis’ Customary Spring Cleaning,” the new business agenda included “Consideration of Additional Goose Deterrence.”
The item included two subsections: a proposal from Critter Getter, a contracted company which helps try to keep resident geese off the paved trails that wind around the neighborhood’s four small lakes, and; “USDA Info.”
Carson was glad she showed up — and appalled at what she heard. The three board members in attendance discussed a more severe plan than anything that had been tried over years of not always peaceful co-existence with the large waterfowl.
The board voted unanimously to pursue a plan to remove the geese — a process that requires a federal permit through USDA and, as often as not, ends in their deaths.
“The question was posed, ‘do they kill the geese?'” Carson told News Channel 11. “And they looked at each other, the board members, and said ‘yes, they kill the geese.'”
Karen Frederick also attended the meeting. She shared Carson’s distaste for the plan and joined her in an effort to halt the plan.
“They’re not harming any of us,” Frederick said, the spring sunlight glittering off the water behind her. “And they’re beautiful.” She called the approach “totally immoral.”
News Channel 11 reached out to board president Peter Tebbe. He declined an interview but sent this statement: “The Board is committed to ensuring all owners have an opportunity to offer feedback in advance of any further action.”
The board plans to send a survey to the 130 or so homeowners in the coming days to gauge opinion on the issue.
Critter Getter has employed multiple efforts at deterring the geese, but the HOA hasn’t ever pursued the removal option.
Residents walking the 4,500-foot trail that winds through the lakes all said they either like the geese being part of the neighborhood or at the very least happily tolerate them.
“Usually I walk it twice a day,” Joshua Grossman said as he and his wife Mickey strolled past rushes along the lakeshore and avoided stray piles of goose droppings.
“I just tell him to watch his step,” Mickey Grossman said.
Another neighbor, Terry Cabe, was more frank. “The poop?” he said. “Well come on, poop is poop. It doesn’t bother me.”
The removal option — here’s how it can be done
Removing Canada geese by any means requires a federal “migratory bird depredation permit” due to their protected status from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Those permits come through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and require a specific online application process.
Ultimately, any successful permit in this region requires completion of a “Form 37” consultation that would go through the office of Erin Patrick, a wildlife biologist and district supervisor with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and its Wildlife Services branch.
“Wildlife Services will provide technical assistance to requests for assistance and has provided technical assistance to the HOA about how to reduce the damage caused by the Canada Geese on their property,” Patrick told News Channel 11 in an email Thursday.
“As with all wildlife damage issues — Wildlife Services provided them with a multifaceted approach to decrease the damage.”
Patrick said neither the HOA nor Critter Getter has filed a Form 37 with her office as yet. She would be the one to sign off on that, and she said no such consultations have been requested for the property.
If the HOA did pursue a depredation permit and it was approved, the actual removal could be completed by Wildlife Services, through what is known as a “Cooperative Service Agreement,” or by an approved and licensed contractor such as Critter Getter.
When Wildlife Services does the work, sometimes the geese are relocated alive. Patrick said, though, that diminishing available habitat that’s both suitable and whose owners, private or public, welcome the addition of more geese, means that more often than not removal ends in the birds’ deaths.
That is a primary reason wildlife officials recommend property owners exhaust all other options before pursuing removal permits, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) agent Sterling Daniels said. Daniels oversees waterfowl for the agency in Northeast Tennessee.
“Look at potential habitat modification, different hazing techniques, things you can do to not make them feel comfortable in that area,” Daniels said. Property owners should be persistent and change methods and tools annually, he said.
Daniels said permits are required for any disturbance to habitat, including modifying nests and “egg addling” — a process involving shaking of eggs that keeps laid eggs from hatching.
Reductions of populations are still considered warranted sometimes “if numbers get out of hand,” Daniels said, but all other options are preferred and should come first.
Hatching season ahead — followed by molting, removal opportunity
Hunters Lake is in for the geese’s annual “high season” if removal doesn’t occur soon. Daniels said goslings begin to hatch in May and geese congregate in large numbers. Carson acknowledged that during that season numbers often get much higher than they are now, sometimes to around 75.
Issues around that period included droppings, noise, a lot of feathers and aggression if geese sense someone is getting too close to the eggs. Molting season follows during the summer and the geese move to big open waters with food available.
“They will group in large numbers in the next few months ahead,” Daniels said.
They’ll also be flightless, and vulnerable, for about four weeks as they lose their wing and tail feathers. If it’s been permitted, that’s when removal occurs.
Daniels said the coming “high season” makes spring the time for habitat modification and deterrence. He said if geese are made to feel uncomfortable enough, they’ll eventually move on. Feeding them in neighborhoods like Hunter’s Lake or making them feel at all welcome around people won’t achieve the desired effect if the desire is to have a goose-free neighborhood.
For Carson, Frederick and the other neighbors already lining up to oppose any removal effort, the time for the board to change course has arrived.
“There is nothing wrong with retracing steps and making corrections,” Frederick said.
Carson said roundups don’t work, either. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources “Canada Goose FAQ’s” seem to suggest the same in a state where “goose-human conflict” abounds due to all the natural water.
That document says the manicured lawns, abundant water bodies and refuge of urban and suburban developments “offer all the resources that geese need to thrive,” including short-mowed lawns.
The FAQs say roundup “is not an effective long-term solution for addressing Canada goose conflicts.” They add that different birds often return to the area. And in Michigan, if a body of water has multiple owners a petition with signatures of at least 70% of lakefront/riparian (river) property owners must be submitted prior to roundup approval.
“The DNR encourages landowners to increase their tolerance of Canada geese to reduce human-goose conflicts in situations where there are no human safety or health threats,” the FAQ adds.
Carson, who’s mailed informational flyers to all her neighbors, agrees with that assessment.
“It’s ineffective, it’s unnecessary, it’s expensive, it just doesn’t work. And number one, it’s inhumane.”