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Frank Gray

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Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Don and Varlene Rhodenbaugh are upset about the Canada geese that have taken up residence around the lake behind their yard, and their major complaint is the amount of goose waste being dropped on the beach where children in the neighborhood play.

Chasing geese away still a tall order

Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Don Rhodenbaugh
Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Varlene Rhodenbaugh

Don and Varlene Rhodenbaugh say when they built their house on Tumbleweed Boulevard in 1983, it was sort of their secret paradise.

Their lot backed up to a grassy common area for residents of the development, and beyond that was a lake with a sandy beach. You could swim or boat or fish.

But the developer later lowered the level of the lake to make room for more houses, and then someone put in lily pads that choked part of the lake, but the Rhodenbaughs don't make a big issue out of that.

In the past couple of months, though, a different sort of headache has appeared in what is called the Cottonwood Lake subdivision.

In just the past couple of months, a small flock of Canada geese has taken up residence along the shores of the little lake, and if you've spent much time around Canada geese, you know they can make a mess.

It's left Varlene and Don on the verge of being outraged.

The grassy areas around the lake are covered with tender young grass, just what geese like to eat, and their droppings now cover the public area where people used to picnic and play, and the small beach is now covered with droppings to the point where you have to walk very carefully to avoid stepping in it.

“They can do a lot of damage in a hurry,” Don said.

Varlene has done what she can to keep the geese out of her yard, at least. She has a couple of very old pan lids that are shaped much like symbols, and when the geese approach her yard, she runs out banging the pan lids together and chases the geese off.

It's worked. The geese won't come into her yard, but they still mill around the area closer to the lake.

Sometimes, when residents are walking their dogs on the path that leads through the subdivision, the dogs will start barking at the geese, and Varlene says she encourages people to let their dogs bark all they want.

Varlene is furious, though. All the droppings create a health hazard, she says.

When her grandchildren come over, she won't let them go to the beach or other areas clogged with goose feces.

She says she's called everyone she can think of to find a solution, but everyone tells her she can't do anything because Canada geese are protected.

That leaves her even more outraged. The geese have more rights than her children, she says. “Who do I sue if one of my kids gets sick?” she asks.

This is where it becomes clear that when it comes to Canada geese, there is a huge misunderstanding.

More than 100 years ago, after some wildlife species were being hunted to extinction, laws and an international treaty were created to protect migratory waterfowl, according to Phil Bloom, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources.

But not all geese are migratory. Some have taken permanent residence at lakes and ponds, where they become a major headache.

The DNR recognizes this and makes it clear that people can take all kinds of steps to deal with these birds.

Curiously, the kind of things that the Rhodenbaughs have been doing are exactly what's recommended.

If geese are harassed repeatedly, eventually they'll get sick of it and leave, the DNR says on its website.

It recommends everything from banging pans, using airhorns, firing blank pistols or blank shotgun shells, hoses, dead geese or artificial predators and recordings of distress calls to drive the birds away.

It even recommends letting dogs bark at them and chase them away.

To keep geese out of ponds, it is recommended people plant tall grass or shrubs on the shore to make it hard for geese to climb in and out of the water.

People are even permitted to tear up their nests to drive them away.

The only restrictions are that you are not allowed to touch a goose or remove a nest once a goose has laid eggs in it.

The DNR website actually tries to show, step by step, how to go about dealing with goose problems – starting with circulating a petition within a neighborhood to get support, choosing someone to be in charge and then deciding how to harass the geese into leaving.

So no, Canada geese aren't protected, but getting rid of them can still be a tall order.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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