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Sandpoint continues geese removal at City Beach

by RACHEL SUN
Staff Writer | July 22, 2021 1:00 AM

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The city of Sandpoint continued its practice of relocating Canada geese at City Beach in 2021, according to a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In total, the city relocated around 220 geese this year, said Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton. The number of geese has increased each year, and with it, the number of captured geese.

The first year, roughly 144 geese, including 100 banded adults were captured, said local activist and writer Jane Fritz.

The geese, who have plagued or graced the beach for decades depending on who you ask, have been a continual problem for the city due to the droppings they leave.

Although some locals enjoy the view of geese on the water and perusing the grassy lawn, their feces can carry parasites, and be unsightly for visitors.

A 2018 article from the Daily Bee reported that the city spends approximately $5,000-$8,000 per year in staffing to sweep grass and sand for fecal matter.

Despite efforts to deter the geese, including hiring a dog handler and using coyote decoys, the geese have stayed, quickly learning to recognize decoys from the real thing, as well as recognize the vehicle used by the owner of the herding dogs, Fritz said.

Because of that, city officials resorted in recent years to the capture and release of the geese — contracting with the USDA Wildlife Services to capture, band adults and relocate the geese.

However, not everyone in Sandpoint has been a fan of the geese removal.

Fritz said she believes that the process of removing the geese, which requires them to be tracked down, herded into pens and have juveniles separated from parents causes undue stress and is abusive. She stated worries about the mortality rate for goslings after the move, and pointed to the fact that many of the geese came back.

By her count, roughly 19-21 birds returned the first year the geese were moved, and 60 the year after, she said.

This year, roughly 80-85 of the roughly 220 geese returned, Stapleton said. The city is not considering it a permanent solution, but other methods haven’t worked. What will work, she said, has not been determined.

“What we're seeing is over 50% of the population returning,” Stapleton said. “We are continuing to see the goose population grow. And in the spring, that number has gone up substantially. Again, this year was the first year we were over 200 geese that were being re-relocated. So in terms of relocation as a management plan. Does it assist with management, in our summer months during our peak season? Definitely. We are not seeing 100% of the geese return. So we are successful in that regard. But given the levels of geese that are returning, is this a sustainable management plan permanently into the future? Most likely not.”

Some residents have also had reservations about the captures in previous years. Fritz, for one, said she feels Sandpoint has lost its soul when it comes to connections with the local flora and fauna — “We used to be the tree city, too. And all I see is trees coming down everywhere,” she said in an interview earlier this year.

Though the city did not widely publicize the capture date or time for this year — captures are generally conducted in late June when the geese are molting — old posts on the Facebook group Sandpoint Local Forum in 2019 showed several public comments with critiques of the practice.

Those included comments criticizing the city for not allowing dogs on the beach, and questioning how much the city was spending to relocate them. Several comments stated that the effort was a waste of time and money because the geese would return.

Recently, the city council passed amendments to code that will allow dogs to be walked on paths with leashes at City Beach. That may help deter geese more than just the dogs the city brings in, but it’s yet to be determined as the population tends to jump back in the fall.

Fritz said the city failed to implement other forms of control that might have been more effective such as oiling eggs to keep them from hatching or growing the grass taller. Geese prefer short grass because it allows them to see predators coming, she said.

Other deterrents include a flashing light that imitates predator’s eyes, which the city has also declined to implement, Fritz said.

Stapleton said the city researched several of those strategies but did not find compelling evidence for them.

“Kind of like with the coyotes, things work for a short period of time, [then] the geese adjust to it,” she said. “We have the same challenge with the dogs as well. And they adjust to it. And in terms of mid-term or a long-term strategy, it's not a successful strategy based on our reviews. Kim Woodruff, our parks director, has done a lot of research, called around and looked into all of those different options, and we just have not found that they're viable.”

While the practice of relocating the geese has been controversial, it’s not uncommon, Ellstrom said. Although the permits for the Canada geese removal are issued by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, its IDFG is also notified.

“I think it is a relatively common way when you look on a nationwide scale,” he said. “That does tend to be done quite a bit by different agencies and municipalities.”

The geese are relocated to a spot in the southern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Ellstrom said.

Fritz contends that Sandpoint is the only municipality in the state to implement the practice. And while city officials seem hesitant to continue to strategy long-term, nothing else so far has come to take its place.

The city is still in conversations with Fish and Wildlife about other solutions they might use to deter geese, Stapleton said. As for next year, the fate of the geese is yet to be seen.

“It's a conversation at this point, and we have not applied for a permit for next year at this point,” she said. “Nor has there been a determination that we would move away from what the current strategy is.”