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Geese crowding fix creates controversy

Delavan approves round-up, locals voice opposition

Ethics of meat distribution also questioned by locals -- According to USDA Wildlife Services District Supervisor Chip Lovell, giving goose meat to the needy is a common practice. "With adult birds, we do contaminate tests to check for heavy metals, pesticides, and as long as everything tests clear in a state lab, the meat from adult geese is ground up in burger-like form and provided to food pantries," he said. "We did this with round-ups in over 30 communities in the state last year." Some citizens and groups have voiced opposition against giving the meat to the needy — the Walworth County Family Resource Center even said they would not accept the meat. "No meat will be distributed to anyone who doesn't want it," Town Chairwoman Dorothy Burwell said. "If the local pantry doesn't want it, then it'll go somewhere else. We thought we were doing a good and nice thing." Cindy Wrobel, who is a Humane Officer and does Animal Control for Walworth County told the board May 18 that "whether (the meat) is distributed in Walworth County or any other county, it doesn't make it any better." Burwell said the treatment and distribution of the meat is not only common, but the same as chicken and other animals killed for consumption. "I grew up on a farm, I know how animals are herded and taken to be slaughtered, but nearly all of us go to steakhouses, hamburger joints and unless you're a vegetarian, it's not much different," she said. "It's a fact of life."
May 26, 2010 | 08:36 AM
Delavan Township — The Canada goose was considered to be extinct 50 years ago, but after preservation efforts, populations have increased substantially to the point where some areas now consider them pests.

That is exactly the case in Community Park, the Delavan Highlands and the town's inlet area.

Last month, the Delavan Town Board decided something has to be done to regulate the geese population due to the prevalence of their droppings, which may contain harmful bacteria.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, studies on the geese's fecal matter show it often contains salmonella, listeria and campylobacter.

At the April 20 meeting, the Town Board approved a goose management program through the USDA Wildlife Services. The program would include rounding up a majority of the geese and grounding the meat for distribution at food pantries.

That solution has created controversy and concern among local residents and animal rights groups.

Fellow Mortals, Inc., Geneva Township, rescues and rehabilitates animals found in the Walworth County area and is one opponent of the round-up efforts. In a May 18 letter addressed to Delavan Town Administrator John Olson, the organization refers to the resolution as "slaughter," "inhumane" and "a massacre."

The letter also states they believe the goose droppings have not been proven to pose risks to human health based on information from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and National Wildlife Health Center officials.

The group requested the town try more non lethal methods of population control.

"Not only is the slaughter but a short-term and thus ineffective solution for a problem that will continue to reoccur as long as there are geese to live and breed another year, it is the most inhumane way imaginable, especially given that it is planned during a time when the youngest birds are only weeks old and none of the birds are capable of escape," the letter stated.

Town Chairwoman Dorothy Burwell said Friday she has heard the argument that the area is rarely used by residents anyway, however the reason for that has long been the Canada Geese, which can defecate as many as 92 times a day.

Some concerned citizens also have alluded the geese will be shot.

USDA Wildlife Services District Supervisor Chip Lovell said the killing of the geese would occur at a state certified poultry processor and in the same manner as a chicken or turkey. He said they are captured alive during mid-June to mid-July when many of the geese are shedding their primary feathers and are flightless. They are transported to the processor alive in crates, much like what is used for farm poultry.

Burwell said the USDA goose management program being planned for this summer is a last resort to a continuing problem.

"I have been on the Walworth County Land Conservation Committee for years, and trust me, the USDA has tried everything," she said. "This seems to be the only thing that will work permanently."

Lovell said that although it is the community's decision to opt for the program, the USDA makes sure it is the last option on the table.

"Before it gets to this point, we recommend harassment, changes in the landscape and the geese habitats and there is also a permit that can be obtained for various ways to disturb and destruct the eggs," he said. "When all those don't work, then a round-up is the last step. When you have such high bird populations, such as Delavan, the harassment and habitat changes are much less effective. Those are tactics used more for maintaining smaller populations."

The Delavan Lake Sanitary District has agreed to fund $4,000 for the USDA program, and Lovell said that's about the amount the department recommends communities to include in their budget.

"We won't know the exact cost until after the project, but we give an estimated dollar amount and then charge for the actual time we put in," he said. "It typically comes in less than what we ask them budget."

Citizens have come up with alternative ideas, including purchasing machines to pick up the goose droppings and hiring local help to shoo away the geese and clean up the Delavan Community Park area.

However, Burwell said the donation was made for the round-up program and hiring someone would eventually exceed that cost.

"Right now, there is no money in the budget for that," she said. "This is a human health issue and if you purchase a machine, there will sill be a long-term, ongoing expense to pay someone to run it. Quite frankly, if someone wanted to offer to purchase that type of cleaning equipment or volunteer or pay for someone to do that, I suspect we'd become interested in that option."

Although Burwell said she has been somewhat frustrated with the amount of opposition to the planned geese eradication, she has received some support.

She said there are many residents who recognize it is needed to remedy the problem.

Lovell said the program results often depend on the community.

"We have seen the problem completely resolved after a one-time round-up and never having to go back again," he said. "But there are some communities that we go back to every year or two years because of the influx of birds that come from another site — that can make it difficult."

He said once the round-up is done, then it's up to the town to maintain the left behind and newcomer populations through harassment, egg disturbance and other techniques.

"Nothing will eliminate a geese population permanently, and that's not our objective," Lovell said. "We are simply reducing the population to a manageable level."

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