BEND — Park managers in Bend are using a mix of egg oiling, hazing and possibly a youngster roundup to keep the number of geese — and the amount of goose poop — down at parks around town.
The Bend Park & Recreation District has been contending for decades with Canada geese, which gather and graze on waterside grass, but the efforts drew public attention in summer 2010 when the district killed more than 100 geese. Since then, district officials have said they are focused on control methods that don't result in dead geese.
"We are trying really hard to do nonlethal," said Sasha Sulia, natural resources manager for the park district.
While the district previously targeted having about 150 geese at parks in Bend, Sulia said there isn't a specific population goal. Rather, the damage the birds are doing will determine whether it is time to try to move them. "It is just based on what we are seeing in our parks," she said.
Sulia took over for Paul Stell, who retired in June 2012 after 30 years with the district. She moved to Bend from Hamilton, Mont., where she was a forester for the U.S. Forest Service.
Sulia started April 1 and has been learning about geese and the control program. "I've actually done a lot of reading and talked with my predecessor, Paul," she said.
Since mid-March, the focus has been on finding goose nests at Bend parks and smearing corn oil on the eggs. The oil coating prevents the egg from hatching. The district prefers oiling rather than collecting eggs or moving nests, which cause the geese to lay more eggs.
Egg oiling started in 2009, and the number of eggs oiled has increased each year, said Jeff Amaral, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services in Portland. The first year there were slightly fewer than 20 eggs oiled. So far this year there have been nearly 250.
Amaral, who is involved in the oiling, said the number keeps going up because the district and those helping it with geese continue to learn the locations of more and more nests. "It can be pretty tricky to find nests," he said at a recent meeting of volunteers in the district's geese hazing program.
The district relies on a corps of about 15 volunteers, and their dogs, to haze geese. From mid-May to mid-June, the volunteers focus on trying to make the geese move away from parks, trying to prompt them to fly away before they go into molt. The molt, which lasts from mid-June to mid-August, is when the birds shed their flight feathers and grow new ones. They are grounded for about a month.
Carrie Koepke, 48, of Bend, is among the volunteers. She said she's typically out daily with her dogs, one of which is certified as a goose-hazing pooch. "I just incorporate (going to) parks into my morning walks with my dogs," Koepke said. "It's something my dogs look forward to."
She keeps her two noncertified dogs on leash while Bodie, the certified 7-year-old border collie, off leash and wearing a brightly-colored bandana, chases geese off the grass at parks in Bend. To be certified, dogs must pass tests by trainers showing they stop and come back when called by their owners. The dogs don't contact the geese but run after them to spook them away from grass in parks.
Other hazing efforts involve kayaks in the water and laser pointers at night. Like the dogs, the lasers don't hit the birds but are utilized to startle them. Past efforts also included eagle effigies, remote-control toy boats, and paintball guns, with the paintballs launched to the ground near the birds.
"I think the most effective is the dogs," Sulia said. "They see those as a predator."
Depending on the number of goslings in the parks this year, the district may also have another roundup of the young, flightless birds. The past two years the district has captured goslings and hauled them about 100 miles to Summer Lake, where they are released at the Summer Lake Wildlife Area.
They target the goslings because, unlike the adults, they have yet to imprint on the parks, so they are less likely to return.
"It is just an effort to try to relocate them and try to get them to not come back here," Sulia said.
In June 2011 the district moved 58 goslings, and last June it moved 65.
If after the egg oiling, hazing and a roundup there are still enough geese in the parks that they are littering the lawns with feces and damaging the turf, then the district still has the option of killing geese, but Amaral and Sulia say it is a last resort.
"It is a tool in our toolbox that we can use if necessary," Amaral said.
The 2010 killing of geese — which the district killed by putting them into garbage-can size containers that were then filled with carbon dioxide — spurred a memorial for the dead birds.
Foster Fell, a Bend man who organized the vigil and followed the district's evolving goose control program, said he is pleased to see the focus is on keeping the birds alive while also keeping them out of the parks.
"I would like to see them continue it the way they have been doing it because they have been doing a great job," he said.
That said, he would also like the district to give up its federal permit that allows for the killing of geese as an option if the nonlethal methods fail.
"To me it makes no sense to have a permit," he said.
Sulia said the district has the permit with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only as a backup, and it also must have it to allow for the gosling roundups.
Again, she said there is no plan to kill any geese this summer. "We have no intentions of using it now, but we want to keep it (as) an option," Sulia said.