Around this time each year, the Madison Parks Division contends with an overabundance of geese. Frequently, that happens in local parks, where birds can come into confrontation with humans and also leave behind bodily waste.
The Parks Division uses a variety of methods to control the population of Canada geese. Those methods include, among other things, leaving an unmowed buffer strip of vegetation between the park and waterfront, blocking the birds’ access to water.
The parks division also uses decoy predator dummies and rubs oil on geese eggs to keep them from hatching.
And in some cases, the city will partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct geese harvests — that is, rounding up and killing a predetermined number of the birds.
Last Tuesday the city held its annual goose cull. It harvested 72 geese from two local parks — Yahara Hills golf course and Esther Beach Park.
Paul Quinlan, a Conservation Resources Supervisor with the city’s parks division, says the harvests are just one component of Madison’s geese management strategy — and they’re typically used only as a last resort.
“We’ve been using several methods to control the goose population, as well as affect where they hang out in the parks and city so that it reduces the impact of so many animals so the environment and habitat can handle it,” Quinlan tells WORT.
But the annual harvest has attracted scrutiny from concerned citizens and wildlife advocacy groups. Mary Telfer, with the Madison-based Alliance for Animals, says the practice is inhumane, and that the harvests don’t address the underlying factors behind the goose surplus.
“The people who do this killing think, ‘Okay, now the geese are gone.’ They’re leaving an open area where more geese will come in and the survivors will then breed and want to become resident geese,” Telfer says. “That’s because geese learn how to migrate from their elders, and if just young geese are left they take up residence and breed more and then they want to kill them again.”
During the harvest, the geese are rounded up and packed into crates. They’re then carted off to a food processing plant, euthanized and turned into meat for local food pantries.
The goose meat — which is processed into burger patties — is tested for a variety of potential contaminants by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. But, Taylor Finger, a wildlife biologist with the DNR, says the state hasn’t tested Madison’s goose meat since 2018.
It was last tested in 2018, and because it tested with no toxins — you get the certification that you don’t have to retest for three years,” he says. “Starting in 2022, at least ten percent of the adult candidate geese that are rounded up and removed will have to be tested again.”
Dawn Bradshaw is the food security program director with the Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, which serves as a middleman goose meat distributor between the city of Madison and local food pantries.
Bradshaw says that the meat they receive comes with a rundown of potential contaminants.
“Generally the meat that we’ve received has not had high levels of contaminants…most of that meat is just destroyed if it’s not edible,” Bradshaw says. Bradshaw says demand for the goose meat is particularly high among southern Wisconsin’s indigenous communities.
“We do have a demand, especially with some of our Native American populations. It’s an alternative meat substance, and we also get a big call for venison in those similar populations.”
Madison’s geese debate stretches back more than a decade, to when the city first proposed a harvest in 2010.
That plan was put on temporary pause after a public outcry. But, in 2011 the city approved the harvest again, and it’s taken place annually since then — depending on the success of the city’s other management strategies.
Quinlan says last Tuesday’s harvest was the only one scheduled for this season.
PHOTO: Gary Bendig / Unsplash