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The goose that conquered America

The goose that conquered America


Alright, let’s roll. I wanna talk to you. Excuse me. I just have a few questions. This is a Canada goose. And these birds have taken over the United
States of America. “It’s Canada Goose, not Canadian Goose,
make sure I get that right.” All of these geese refuse to do an interview
with me. I’m wondering why they don’t want to talk. “Check it out, look at that lady staring
that goose down.” “It was coming at my face, haha.” Canada geese can be amazing, but they also
defecate on our pristine lawns, stain our youth soccer fields our and even endangered
our Sully. “Birds.” But it wasn’t always this way. The Canada Goose as it is today? It’s a problem that humans created. It’s a story of Teddy Roosevelt, and defensive
umbrellas, and homegrown honkers, and the surprising way that this bird from Canada
ended up all over America. Found it. This right here is a plan for a Canada Goose
nesting tub. So that is from this manual, published by
the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Fisheries and Wildlife in 1970. And it is a how-to–guide for how to raise
your own flock of Canada Geese. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Americans
stocked up on these birds. And they did it for a reason. We almost hunted them to extinction, or at
least expirta…expirta…. “Every discipline has to have its fancy
terms for simple concepts, right? So extirpated would just mean that you’ve
lost it from a given area that’s defined. But it’s not extinct globally.” These migratory birds traveled South from
Northern states and Canadian provinces when migrating, but overhunting made them increasingly
rare. The Passenger Pigeon had already gone extinct. It was a scary look at what could happen to
the Canada Goose. In fact, people thought that one subspecies
— the Giant Canada Goose — was already extinct. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 was
a strong response and it was inspired by conservationists like Teddy Roosevelt. It protects a lot of birds from unregulated
hunting, including Canada Geese. And it some cases, it set the stage for big
population growth. “What this map is showing is population
trends that are based on the breeding birds survey” This is what it looks like for a mourning
dove from 1966 to 2015. “Any colors that are in blue indicate where
populations have increased, and the red and the orange show where population has decreased. And it’s showing percent change per year, when
you look at the legend, you’ll see +1.5 change per year, which is actually a very
sizable increase.” This is the map for the Canada Goose. That growth was protected by the Migratory
Bird Treaty Act. But it was driven by something else entirely. “Ones over on this side are, I think, common
eiders, and the ones on the other side are king eiders.” “I am the migratory bird program coordinator
for the state of Kentucky.” He crafts hunting regulations that conserve
the bird population in the state and that includes dealing with birds that were purposefully
raised by people, like the Canada Goose. “The birds that we have right now in the
lower 48 are birds that we put here.” All that stuff happened long before John started
his job, but the decisions made rippled into the present and the kind of stuff he has to
think about today. In the ’60s and ’70s, home grown honkers kind
of became a fad. Let me read you something from the forward
to this book. “Homegrown honkers is a timely publication
because people are increasingly interested in do-it-yourself conscious. This was ’60s style environmental activism. And that led them to make an instruction manual
for creating your own goose population. Here’s a chapter on goose husbandry. This is a breeding pen arrangement plan. Here’s a plan for a floating goose nesting
platform. Goose reproduction was the goal of this book
and multiple symposia that were held around the same time. This environmental impact statement from 2002
features some typical stories of goose boosting by state agencies:
Translocated geese – ones moved from one part of the state to another. Game farm geese, restored so that they could
breed. And stuff like this, when 1,500 geese were
brought from Toronto and plunked down in Ohio. And all this stuff was common, these are just
a few examples. There were PR efforts too, like Indiana’s
“Goose For You Too” program — that is what they called it. Suddenly there were two classes of geese,
thanks to the Home for Honkers philosophy: the migratory ones, also new temperate nesting
geese, resident geese, that stayed in a place year round. They might migrate short distances, but they
became known for staying in the same general region. Both types of birds were protected by the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act. And that led to there being too many geese. In rural areas, and for hunters, there are
really effective tools to manage this. People like John come together to manage hunting
of the goose population in a particular migratory path, or flyway. They can target the hunting of resident geese
by carving up a state, using analytics from careful tracking of geese, or by limiting
hunting dates and bag limits, or the amount of geese that you take home with you. For example, if they have a hunting season
with fewer restrictions in September, that’ll only hit resident geese, because the migratory
ones won’t have come down yet. “In a lot of cases it’s been tremendously
successful, there’s a lot of Canada geese harvested every year, but they have certainly
in some cases created problems especially in urban areas.” At the same time we were making home grown
honkers, we were also coincidentally creating ideal goose habitats – places where predators
— like hunters — were banned, and there was also lots of green open space. And then people gave them free food! And this was all part of the plan. If you read the chapter “honkers move to
the city” and you’ll find some reservations about an urban geese population, but mostly
bragging. So with a strict law and no hunting, what
options are left? “We’re located here in Lake Barcroft,
Virginia.” In Lake Barcroft, geese used to be a big problem. Because it’s a community, they couldn’t
hunt them. “One of our residents showed me a bucket. He would be collecting a bucket a day of goose
poop. That’s a lot.” Geese Peace — that’s the name of David’s
non-profit — was needed. They started work in 1991 as a way to curb
those resident geese, and they offer trainings to other communities. It stops new geese eggs from hatching, but
it requires a permit from Fish and Wildlife, and that requires yearly labor. “We have to get those birds off the nest
first.” “So member number one would approach the
nest with an umbrella that’s open. Leave the nest and stay over here. This person with the umbrella keeps the goose
away. You have one goose coming at you like
that, and you have the gander coming at you like that.” “It sounds like an adrenaline rush.” “It is. But no one gets hurt. The other member of the party… will approach the nest that is now open. You would take the egg and put it in a bucket
full of water like that. Now this doesn’t have enough water for it
to float, but if the egg sinks, that means the air sack is not yet developed in the egg. The air sac’s not developed, it’s likely
lungs are not developed, so you’re not suffocating something in the egg by coating it with the
corn oil. Because that seals the pores, oxygen doesn’t
go in C02 doesn’t go out, and the egg goes dormant.” I was amazed by how concerned David was for
the wellbeing of these geese, but really you have to be. We have laws that strictly protect their safety
and, if you think about it, the honkers — they aren’t the ones to blame. “When they thought some of these subspecies
of geese might be extinct, that’s reasonable to be concerned. So it was an appropriate and good thing to
bring them back into captivity, to try to breed them, have a reintroduction program,
if we care about protecting biodiversity. You know, when we want to conserve species,
we can. And sometimes we’re so darn good at it,
it can get away pretty quickly.” Not every bird is as easy to spot as the Canada
Goose. Some people will travel miles over difficult
terrain just to get a peek at rarer breeds. Such is the subject of journalist Mark Obmasick’s “The
Big Year,” now available on Audible. Audible is where so many inspiring voices
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