Ohioans Clash With Soaring Canada Goose Population

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Fred Buxton and Mickey(Photo: Sam Hendren /WOSU)
Fred Buxton and Mickey(Photo: Sam Hendren /WOSU)

It seems geese are everywhere, eating lawns, blocking traffic. It may be hard to believe, but from the end of the Civil War until the 1950s, there were no known Canada Geese living in Ohio.

That changed when the Department of Natural Resources began establishing resident flocks across the state. ODNR’s efforts might have worked too well. There are so many geese now it’s become a battle of wills between man and fowl.

Fred Buxton spends his days on a wild goose chase. He owns Duck Duck Goose, a wildlife control company. On a recent morning he and his black lab Mickey were on patrol at a large apartment complex near Tuttle Mall. Lush lawns, ponds, and a creek are too good for geese to resist. As Buxton drove through parking areas, Mickey bounded off between the buildings looking for geese.

“His bark alone scares the geese,” Buxton says. “So if he sees a goose, he’ll go after that goose without me even being there. We teach these geese that if they come here they’re going to be harassed; they’ve got a predator on the property and we’re going after them.”

An estimated 85,000 Canada Geese live in Ohio. They don’t pose much of a problem in rural areas. But in urban areas Canada Geese make themselves right at home on landscaping and golf courses. Occasionally they’ll attack if provoked. Karen Norris is a Division of Wildlife spokeswoman.

“They will hiss; they will chase you; they will have their wings out and try to chase you off. They have no teeth but they do give an awful pinch so they will pinch and twist at the same time and it gives a nasty welt,” Norris says.

And speaking of nasty, there are the goose droppings. One grass-eating goose can leave behind a pound a day.

So the demand for goose control grows. Because geese are migratory, they’re protected by federal law, which means you cannot kill them except during hunting season. But the Division of Wildlife’s Norris says geese can and should be harassed.

“We need to actively harass geese and we want everyone to harass geese,” Norris says.

But there are rules for geese harassers. Geese can only be harassed before they nest.

“Once it lays an egg or builds a nest you can no longer disturb that goose or that nest. But until that point, you can harass them; chase them,” Norris says.

Besides Mickey the dog, Fred Buxton uses lasers pointers; Geese think they are predators. On sunny days he also uses mirrors to annoy geese who swim blissfully on the neighborhood lake.

If that doesn’t work he’ll send out a flotilla of radio-control boats. And he uses fireworks. It only takes a few minutes for the pair to fly away.

“If I don’t use enough tenacity, they will realize that, ‘Hey all I have to do is be stubborn.’ I can’t let them win. I have to win every time against the geese,” Buxton says.

It can be expensive, though. Keeping an apartment complex geese-free can cost up to $30,000 a year.

At Ohio State University they prefer the term goose discouragement. The university is trying to keep geese from eating newly planted grass seed along the Olentangy River restoration.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Jeff Pelc is one of a team working to encourage the geese on the river to move on.

Q: Are you fighting a lost cause here?

“No, we’ve made an impact as you can see there’s a lot of green here and we’ve reduced the damages quite a bit compared to what it was last year,” Pelc says.

If all the harassing does not work, property owners can have geese euthanized, but only after exhausting all efforts and going through a lengthy permitting process.

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