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DEALING WITH THE PROBLEM

As the state waterfowl biologist, Johnson has spent much of his career working to make more geese. The Game and Fish Department has transplanted more than 13,000 birds since the early 1980s so there would be more geese in more places for people to enjoy. Telling someone they need to get rid of some birds or they'll have problems is a difficult message for a lot of people, Johnson said.

The first urban goose complaint in North Dakota, as Johnson recalls, came from Wahpeton, where a few pairs of geese raised families in a park containing three ponds along the Red River. In the fall, those birds would attract giant C anadas from a several thousand bird flock at Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

The additional geese apparently overgrazed the pond banks, leading to erosion. They sometimes fed in large numbers on a nearby golf course. But, the people in Wahpeton like having the geese in the park. Along with a swimming pool and kids' playground, the geese are a major attraction.

The situation today is much the same as it was 10 years ago. The Game and Fish Department, Johnson said, hasn't been involved to any extent because some residents object to any sort of population control. Without a consensus from local residents that a problem exists, it is difficult to achieve success, Johnson added.

At Oxbow Country Club, about 15 miles south of Fargo along the Red River, geese have been a part of the landscape for many years. Two or three goose pairs which were not part of a Department transplant, produced broods and it "looked ready to explode with geese," Johnson said. While the Oxbow geese may not even nest on the golf course, they come from up and down the Red River to feed on the short, succulent grass.

To keep that potential problem area in check, Johnson said the Department has trapped geese every year for several years. There's lots of room yet in North Dakota to transplant goslings, Johnson said, but as long as adult females are alive they will return to the same area year after year to nest.

"We've kept that flock at two or three pairs (and broods) a year," said Johnson, adding that if the Department hadn't trapped birds annually, the goose population could be up to a couple hundred, and at that level there there probably isn't a good solution short of a special hunting season or other way to increase mortality. Nobody wants to see that happen.

Some residents at the Marina Bay development along the Missouri River in south Mandan have been dealing with geese in their yards. While the homeowners didn't attract the geese with nest structures, birds that nested along the Missouri are attracted to lawns next to a lake connected to the river.


A family of Canada geese at Riverwood Golf Course in Bismarck


Trapping and transplanting won't work in that situation, but Johnson counsels residents who don't want too many geese to not offer feed for the birds, and to chase the geese out of their yard. "Once they establish that habit it's almost impossible to break," Johnson advises.

Short fences will also keep geese that can't fly out of yards. A dog roaming the back yard may also prompt geese to find another food source.

While there are solutions to keeping urban geese from becoming a problem, Johnson says homeowners are often reluctant to take the necessary steps. Many of them built or bought homes on the edge of town, near water, so they could be closer to nature. They like to see geese close up. "The first pair and five goslings is neat," Johnson said, "...but if you don't want two dozen in your yard, don't let five in your yard."

It is hard for many people to accept the fact that wild geese can become so accustomed to city life that they create problems. We don't want geese to be a problem. We want them to be a voice of spring, and a trophy game bird in fall.

Despite a few problems, giant Canada geese still are those things in North Dakota. Keeping it that way is a challenge.

So far, the Game and Fish Department has been able to handle the complaints. Critical to maintaining that objective is an understanding from all people who like geese, not just affected propery owners, that urban geese can become a problem.

The solutions may not please everyone, but if North Dakota's urban goose numbers are not kept in check, we could wind up facing monumental problems like those in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. They've run out of desirable options.

It is Johnson's hope that city residents can be satisifed with perhaps fewer geese, rather than the Department having to round up excess birds and cut their heads off because there is no other alternative.

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