Sandpoint’s plan for geese strays from the value system that once guided our future

By Jane Fritz
Reader Contributor

On the September 22, 2011, front cover of the Reader is a colorful illustration of a future lakeside Sandpoint with a story written by then editor, Zach Hagadone. 

I saved this issue of the paper because I love the concept drawing. 

In the far background edged by mountains, it shows buildings and a BNSF train with many, large trees between the tracks and a paved public trail heavy with bicyclists, and couples and families out walking along it, or sitting on benches. In the foreground are thick native grasses and cattails, separating the people behind a low railing from the abundant wildlife at the lakeshore — leaping fish, families of ducks, heron, swans and Canada geese with their goslings. 

This is the healthy lakeside town that I want to live in, not the one that after being here 40 years I now find. 

Why? Because the value system guiding Sandpoint’s future has strayed from this nature/wildlife/people interconnectedness which drew many of us here. It now primarily favors people, mostly tourists and their money. 

The evidence is the city’s upcoming plan to eliminate Canada geese adults and their downy goslings from our shared beach and park. Spending thousands of tax dollars, on June 24-25, Wildlife Services-APHIS, a federal agency responsible for dealing with “nuisance” species of wildlife, will corral, capture, and attach leg bands on 200 geese and goslings. The city has a depredation permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as geese are a migratory species protected by Congressional law. The birds then will be loaded into a horse trailer (how many goslings will survive?) and relocated to the Chain Lakes Wildlife Management Area just south of Coeur d’Alene. Originally, Idaho Fish & Game, another partner, had planned to separate the young goslings from their parents, so they would be less apt to return to City Beach, but that part of the plan has been dropped. However the Catch-22 might be that a higher percentage of geese will return next year. Those geese that reappear with a leg band will be caught and killed by Wildlife Services, paid with more city taxes. 

Any new, non-banded arrivals will be caught, banded and relocated. This cycle, according to Kim Woodruff, director of Parks and Recreation, will likely continue for several years. Imagine how you might feel watching a Canada geese breeding pair, who mate for life, engage in courting behavior on the sprawling spring lawn of City Beach having just migrated here, and you notice leg bands on them. Their honking, once a welcomed herald of spring, suddenly becomes a harbinger of death. 

“Depredation: The act of attacking or plundering.” However, the FWS depredation permit is not given because we are plundering the geese; rather it’s the geese attacking us (like rats infesting grain bins). The reason? Well, geese poop. A lot. And the city’s vague claims are that “human health and safety hazards” are the reasons the geese need to be eliminated. However, not a single health complaint or human injury report has ever been documented by the city relating to goose droppings. 

Some fear E. coli contamination while swimming since the lake adjacent to City Beach has high levels. But shallow waters elsewhere in the Pack River and Clark Fork river deltas, where there are hundreds more geese, have very low E. coli levels. So what’s the missing variable? Humans, children and boaters. Blaming the geese is a stretch. Safety hazards? If people harass them, then maybe, since mother geese are very protective. Regardless, elimination of geese has been chosen.

What is the alternative? Deterrents and there are many. In addition to the beach sweeper now used, vegetative plantings — the grass and cattails in the illustration — as well as peppermint, which geese detest. Mechanisms like which are effectively used by Coeur d’Alene are another; Coyote decoys work for Coeur d’Alene City’s park mainly because it has many large trees. 

Dog hazing has been effective here, but it’s inconsistent and expensive. So perhaps it’s time to make City Beach dog friendly. Barking dogs on leash walking the sidewalk that separates the beach from the grass would surely make the geese uncomfortable. Drake the Reader Dog would love City Beach!  Sandpoint could also do what Dover does: educate with interpretive signs. 

Most people are surprised to hear of the city’s draconian plans. There’s one more City Council meeting before it occurs—June 19. So now is the time to let our leaders know how you feel. It’s not too late to change this inhumane course of action, and learn to live with our wild neighbors again, and in the future.

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