I talk to beach managers all the time, and one of the most common issues I hear about is Canada geese. They destroy grass, attack beach visitors, and their droppings foul beaches and impair water quality. A Canada goose can eat up to 1.8 kg of food and excrete almost 1kg of fecal matter per day!
That’s sure to keep a municipality from being able to apply for the Blue Flag award, which is a symbol of a clean, safe beach with excellent water quality.
It’s hard to believe that Canada geese were once endangered; in fact, by the end of the 19th century the species was almost extinct due to overhunting. Efforts to save the population began in the 1960s with the reintroduction of geese to various parts of the country. The Department of Lands and Forests (now the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) continued the program through the 1980s. It is viewed as one of the most successful wildlife re-establishment programs to date.
But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. There are now more Canada geese in North America than at any time in recorded history. In 2014, the estimated number of breeding adults in Southern Ontario alone was 80,000. That equals 160,000 geese. During fall migration, that number skyrockets to 450,000.
This population explosion is the result of human changes to the landscape.We’ve created the perfect conditions for geese to proliferate: unobstructed access to open water, a buffet of manicured lawns, and a lack of natural predators to keep their numbers in check. As a result, it has become necessary for humans to manage Canada geese in areas where they impact the environment and public safety.
After getting so many questions from beach managers about how to deal with Canada geese, we decided to organize a Goose Management Workshop thanks to funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. We brought in experts from the City of Toronto, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, and the Wildlife Management Group to discuss the biology, history and best management techniques for Canada geese. Our aim is to help municipalities find solutions that will enable them to have clean, swimmable beaches that are eligible for the Blue Flag award.
The good news is that there are lots of techniques that can be employed. Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog series to find out what we learned.