Each summer for the past few years, Canada geese in Seattle’s public parks have been rounded up for lethal removal as part of a government program designed to reduce the number of geese residing in areas used by people. The geese, which were reintroduced to the northern United States after being hunted nearly to extinction, are maligned by some because they foul beaches and play fields with their feces. The geese have rebounded and even thrived in recent years, and today their numbers, along with their attraction to the Puget Sound’s lush green lawns and sports fields, have made them the target of "lethal removal" every summer, when they lose their flight feathers and can easily be caught.
In March, along with its partner The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), PAWS agreed in principle with the Seattle Parks Department to embark upon a joint venture that will develop and promote humane methods of managing the conflict between geese and patrons of Seattle’s parks. PAWS and HSUS will recruit and train volunteers to help find nesting locations so that vegetable oil can be applied to goose eggs (which keeps them from hatching). Addling, as the egg-oiling procedure is called, is likened by humane groups to a spay-and-neuter program for geese, and is the cornerstone of humane population management.
Volunteers, whose efforts will be coordinated under the umbrella of an official Parks Department program, will also help mitigate the impact of geese by helping to clean beaches and grassy areas at some of the city’s most popular gathering spots, including Gas Works and Green Lake parks. In addition to taking care of such “dirty work,” trained volunteers will use light-emitting laser devices to shoo geese away from the sites at which they have historically caused the greatest number of citizen complaints. According to Dr. John Hadidian, Director of Urban Wildlife Programs for The HSUS (and a key advisor to the humane program), geese can be "de-habituated" with laser harassment. "The birds are smart, and learn quickly to avoid spots where they’re likely to encounter dogs, bright lights, or other irritants. Encouraging geese to move where they’re more likely to be tolerated is one of the best ways to keep the birds out of harm’s way," Hadidian said.
Assuming PAWS and the City can agree to parameters that will govern the new program, the Seattle Parks Department will suspend the lethal removal of geese within parks through 2005. If the pilot program is successful, it will be expanded to more city parks next year, and humane management methods will make the killing of these majestic birds a thing of the past.