By Jennifer Stahn
As the Canada goose population continues to rise in Kamloops city crews and property owners look for ways to convince the geese to find a home where they will not interfere with play time or cause health hazards.
For the city and at least one golf course, man's best friend has become the go-to choice for bird control, with Kamloops parks department contracting the services of Mike Ritcey and Juno to help keep the birds under control at McArthur Island Park.
Ritcey helped control the marmot population at the park for a number of years before the city approached him about goose control a couple of years ago. He put together a proposal and last year took his five-year-old purebred lab for their first run at chasing away the geese. Having a dog chase the geese away forces the birds to relocate This humane way of encouraging the geese to leave the park appears to be working so far – while there were upwards of a thousand birds earlier this spring, now Juno is only getting to chase several dozen a day during her three daily trips to the park.
The search and rescue certified dog hunted with Ritcey for years and helped on cougar, bear and moose hunts on most of their trips. The lack of bird training meant special toys had to be used to encourage Juno to simply chase the birds away and not hunt the slower birds.
Parks operations supervisor Shawn Cook says while the birds are not yet considered a nuisance their numbers are increasing steadily. In response, the city wants to see what can be done to help control the population and where the birds are choosing to make their home while in Kamloops. Also, because of the warmer weather, each year more Canada geese are content to stay year round, Cook notes.
The dog flushing option was the first the city has tried and so far they are really happy with the results.
“We decided to go with the dog approach,” Cook says, “that has worked very well. We had really good results (last year.)”
This year good snow cover throughout most of the winter meant the birds were not able to feed on the fields as much as they have in past years, but damage to new grass areas has still occurred. The health factor is also a concern for the city, especially in high traffic areas where kids are playing and sporting events take place.
With the help of Juno and as more people start using the parks a lot less geese will stick around, Cook notes, and city crews are busy trying to clean up the excrement where the birds have been frequenting to ready the parks for the warm weather.
Juno will continue her work, which she happily takes on every day, straight through the fall when the geese population increases heavily during migration.
At Kamloops Golf and Country Club geese can pose a problem, especially early in the season before many golfers are out on the course. Course interim superintendent Travis Olson says the birds have been known to leave a mess on their greens and fairways with droppings, and also by pecking at the turf. Staff brings dogs to the property in the winter and that helps chase off many of the birds but they have also used a decoy – a dog silhouette cut in to plywood and painted black – to keep the geese away from newly seeded areas.
Olson says the decoy - which was a new addition this year - seems to work well in keeping the birds away from the intended area, though only in the immediate area.
Local school fields also attract Canada geese and Tim Dempster, the grounds manager for the school district, says that while he is aware of the problem the district has not yet tried any methods for ridding the school grounds of the geese. He would like to try out some humane methods but hasn't researched enough to know which processes would work most effectively.
“Let me know what others are trying, I would be interested in knowing what works for them.”
In other parts of the Okanagan communities such as Kelowna, Lake Country, Oliver, Osoyoos, Penticton and Vernon are taking part in the Okanagan Valley Goose Management Program. Formed in 1995, the program uses egg-addling, monitoring, public awareness, scaring and habitat modification to control the pesky birds.
Egg-addling involves removing the embryo from the egg and returning the empty egg to the nest so the bird still believes the egg is developing to prevent it from laying any further eggs.
The City of Kelowna also relocates geese to a wetland near the landfill during molting, when birds are not able to fly. It is used as a temporary solution to keep the birds away from Okanagan Lake during the summer months.
In 2007 Kelowna contributed $75,000 to the management program in addition to another $90,000 spent to control and clean up after the geese on city-owned lands. Kamloops has budgeted $5,000 to $10,000 for goose control this year.
To contact a reporter for this story, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250) 819-3723.