Almost a year after the controversy over Warner Park’s geese population began, Madison is still finalizing a goose management plan for all of the city’s parks.
The Parks Division will hold their last goose management public informational and listening session meeting on April 20 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Goodman Maintenance Facility.
The final plan will be put up for consideration before the Board of Parks Commission in May, according to Parks Division spokeswoman Laura Whitmore.
Madison’s quest to develop a goose management plan has been full of twists and turns.
It all began on April 14, 2010 when the Board of Parks Commissioners approved a plan to kill 80 to 100 geese at Warner Park. The plan would have involved the first lethal measures taken against geese by the city of Madison.
Representatives of Dane County Regional Airport proposed the plan. They believed the geese at Warner Park, located about a mile and a half away from the airport’s main runway, posed a threat to flight safety.
The threat of geese and other birds to airplanes became a national issue after the highly publicized “Miracle on the Hudson.”
In Jan. 2009, a flock of geese struck a plane outside of New York City. The pilot was forced to perform a “miracle” landing on the Hudson River. In response, New York officials approved a plan to kill 1,200 geese near the city’s main airports.
“I think you’ve got a dangerous situation in there. I don’t want to test out another Miracle on the Hudson here,” said Ald. Joe Clausius, a member of the Board of Parks Commission, at the April 14 meeting.
The plan was approved the same day it was proposed and no indication that a goose management plan would be discussed was given prior to the commissioners’ meeting.
“It is, however, clear to me that very few people knew that ‘goose management’
would be discussed, much less that it meant killing geese in the park,” wrote Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway in an April 23, 2010 letter to the parks commissioners.
The plan’s passage was immediately met with protest from Madison residents. A “No Madison Goose Kill” Facebook group quickly gained over 1700 members.
“Things are fairly quiet now, but it was a huge issue for us last spring,” said Megan Maguire, co-chair of the Sherman Neighborhood Association. “People were really against killing geese. There was a huge uproar.”
Many believed that the geese did not pose as big of a threat to flight safety as the airport reported, and that there were alternative, non-lethal measures that could be taken to control the goose population.
In response, the Parks Commissioners held a meeting on May 12, 2010 to receive input from the public.
The meeting was well attended, and upset citizens spoke up against the plan, including Jim Carrier, co-founder of Wild Warner Inc., a non-profit advocacy group protecting wildlife in Warner Park.
“Do not take all our geese. Do not silence our spring. Do not kill their call of the wild,” Carrier said in a prepared speech.
After being presented with new information and receiving input from the public, the commissioners unanimously voted to put the plan on hold and vowed to develop a non-lethal goose management plan.
“I think the Parks Department needs to think broadly to come up with a strategy. I think its a mistake to focus on just Warner Park,” said parks commissioner Betty Chewning.
The commissioners said that they would look into numerous management techniques including habitat modification, egg addling/oiling and goose harassment.
Wild Warner has made numerous recommendations, one being that Madison must start obeying their own no-feeding ordinance. The organization says that the city is feeding and attracting Canada Geese by continually mowing the grass at city parks.
While the final goose management plan is still being debated, Madison has already taken one step to control its goose population.
Last June, the city began killing goose eggs in Warner Park using a technique called “oiling.” 96 eggs were suffocated with corn oil.
The Parks Division hosted two public forums last fall. An October meeting focused on golf courses, while a November meeting focused on general parklands.
The birds’ potential threat to flight safety is not the only reason the city is developing a goose management plan. The high number of geese in Madison’s parks is also threatening public health.
A goose leaves behind up to a half pound of waste a day. That waste contributes to elevated levels of E. coli, salmonella and cryptosporidium, according to the Dane County Health Department.
Vilas Beach, the city’s most heavily used beach, was deemed unfit for swimming by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008 due to excessive levels of E. coli, according to the Friends of Lake Wingra advocacy group. Five other Madison beaches were deemed impaired for swimming by the EPA.
Geese have also proven to be a nuisance to park goers.
“It would definitely be nice to have less goose poop all over the parks, but I don’t think its worth killing them over,” said Ben Daniels, a Warner Park regular.
Goose waste often ends up on the city’s soccer fields, basketball courts and playgrounds, and on the bottom of people’s shoes.
“Things can get pretty messy when I’m walking my dog here,” said Michelle Conley on Saturday afternoon at Warner Park. “I have to double check the bottom of my shoes before I walk back into my house.”
I wrote this story in March 2011 for my advanced reporting class at UW-Madison. I’m covered the Sherman neighborhood of Madison, WI.