Humans might be culprit

The Park at Rivers Edge wasn't the only area in which Canada geese gathered recently. This flock came to Palmetto Peninsula Drive in Mount Pleasant last month.

Lowcountry residents cried foul after one Charleston-area neighborhood association removed resident Canada geese that were overpopulating their community ponds. But the very neighbors who were feeding the birds could be the source of the problem.

Over the past several years, South Carolina has seen increased numbers of waterfowl, causing a human-goose conflict in many residential communities.

According to Sam Chappelear, Department of Natural Resources wildlife regional coordinator, the problem is not a general overpopulation of resident Canada geese, it's an isolated overpopulation of geese, which aggravates and homeowners.

In early July, The Park at Rivers Edge in North Charleston opted to have the U.S. Department of Agriculture remove and euthanize 75 geese from the neighborhood property, sparking a community controversy.

Over the past six or seven years, neighborhood residents became increasingly concerned about the resident Canada geese that congregated on several neighborhood ponds. Many worried about their children and pets playing near goose feces, property damage to costly manicured landscapes and other health and safety issues.

While the old flock is gone, the problem could reappear next spring when a new flock discovers the same nesting niche. People are advised to leave the birds alone. The DNR and The Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese do not recommend feeding Canada geese.

"Geese don't lose their natural instincts to feed in the wild, but when people feed them in specific areas, they congregate," said Sharon Pawlak from the coalition. Feeding the geese artificially inflates the population, Chappelear said.

Giving the birds bread or other treats isn't nutritionally bad for them but "it's like a Snickers bar to humans — if it's there, we are going to grab it," said Beth Mowder of Keeper of the Wild.

The local wildlife rehabilitator added that most humans mean no harm, but don't realize they are inadvertently making the problem worse.

According to several neighborhood association board members, they would have been glad to work with local organizations to relocate the federally protected birds but were unaware that it was an option.

The DNR referred them to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said board member Cathy Ellis. The resulting decision was based on a majority vote taken at an open meeting.

The DNR no longer relocates resident Canada geese because it's likely that the habitual species either will return to the area or cause the same problems in a new area, Chappelear said. But there are other options for goose population management.

Canada geese respond to harassment, said Pawlak. Scare tactics include using fireworks, spraying water or shooing the birds away with a broom. A more aggressive approach is to use border collie goose control programs, where trained dogs chase flocks away without harming the birds.

There are also ways to limit reproduction through addling and oiling, which involves taking the goose eggs during the early nesting stages and later replacing them to prevent hatching. These methods require permits but can be done by homeowners or outside companies following the Humane Society protocol.

Once geese have congregated and learned to expect food, they lose their fear of humans, and that's "a whole different ball game," Chappelear said. Not feeding the birds is an important initial step that should taken, along with other various goose-control methods.

"Our stance is to keep the wildlife wild," Ellis said. She along with other board members who have taken the heat for the neighborhood's decision hope to see birds return next year as long as residents stop feeding them or trying to domesticate the birds.

Reach Annie Ierardi at 937-5716 or aierardi@postandcourier.com.