By Zach Hagadone
The city of Sandpoint issued a statement June 27 that under a migratory bird depredation permit with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, the resident Canada geese that congregate at City Beach had been rounded up and euthanized on June 23.
“This was not an easy decision,” stated Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad. “The city of Sandpoint has been dealing with the growing resident Canada goose population at City Beach for over two decades at great expense and our management strategies have been met with little to no success.”
Rognstad added that the numbers of geese at the beach had “become a public health issue for our community and visitors, not to mention a huge deterrent for public use of City Beach. The city and its residents value wildlife. City Beach, however, is a public park, not a wildlife sanctuary. We need to prioritize public health and recreation in our busiest city park.”
The euthanization had been administratively approved by Rognstad, and followed a request from the city to USDA Wildlife Services for a roundup and relocation of the geese in the spring. According to the city, the agency recommended against relocation, citing the possibility of spreading Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in the region.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s Wildlife Health Lab similarly advised against relocation in 2022. In the fall of 2022, the Sandpoint City Council approved a controlled goose hunt at City Beach, which resulted in one bird being killed. A second hunt is scheduled for the fall of 2023.
Other attempts to reduce the population of Canada geese at City Beach — which has been estimated to be around 200 animals — have included signs to discourage feeding; special equipment designed to clean the goose feces in the grass and sand; physical harassment of the birds and hiring dog handlers with trained dogs to herd the geese out of the park; and the use of deterrent decoys, flags and other methods.
“City Parks and Recreation staff has spent countless numbers of hours cleaning up the goose feces in the grass, sand, walkways and marinas,” the city stated. “In all, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been invested in these efforts.”
Meanwhile, beginning in 2016, the city reported that Sandpoint Waterkeepers found rising levels of E.coli in the proximity of the beach.
Capture and relocation of the geese took place in 2019, 2020 and 2021, with identification bands placed on the geese to track whether they would return to Sandpoint from the location they were taken south of town. Each year it was found that most of the geese came back to City Beach.
Rognstad later asked city staff to consult GeesePeace, a Virginia-based program that provides communities with goose management methods and products. According to the city, GeesePeace representatives came to Sandpoint for two days, discussing management strategies suggested by local community members. At that time, GeesePeace recommended egg oiling — a method that prevents eggs from hatching — as well as replacement and/or destruction of nests.
“Implementation of this strategy is challenging given that the geese don’t nest at City Beach or typically within Sandpoint City limits,” City Hall stated. “City staff also reached out to meat processing companies and groups to determine the viability of a harvest of the meat should euthanization be determined a necessary mitigation strategy. These efforts were not successful.”
The issue of what to do — if anything — about the Canada goose population at City Beach has generated years of controversy, with many community members outraged at what they’ve described as inhumane treatment of the birds.
Among the most vocal opponents of the city’s various goose management strategies has been area writer and longtime journalist Jane Fritz, who has testified at City Council meetings and penned numerous letters and opinion pieces in local media.
In a 2019 article published by the Reader, Fritz wrote that, “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.” In a 2020 piece, also published by the Reader, she wrote that the city of Sandpoint had “lost its moral compass” by pursuing lethal control methods.
In an email sent June 23 to numerous community members, including media, longtime local resident Janice Simeone wrote, “The birds fly and multiply. Killing hundreds of geese will do nothing. There is just one male and one female that is necessary for reproduction. Because these individuals find the geese offensive due to their droppings on the beach, their idea is to kill them.”
Opponents of the euthanasia strategy have long proposed non-lethal methods such as flashing beacons located in the sand and nearshore waters at the beach, as well using the strategies identified by GeesePeace.
However, Rognstad stated, “The only viable solution remaining at this point is a humane roundup and euthanization performed by professional wildlife managers through the USDA Wildlife Services. USDA Wildlife Services has been our partner in non-lethal measures for years and we appreciate the support in helping the city of Sandpoint resolve this problem in the most humane way possible.”
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