Canada geese are being culled in Denver by a federal agency in charge of killing wildlife on airports. Meat will be given to needy families, the parks department said. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI. | License Photo
DENVER, July 2 (UPI) -- Frustrated by poop from the city's Canada geese, Denver's Parks and Recreation Department has rolled out a program to cull the birds and process them for meat to be distributed to needy families.
Over the past two weeks, in early-morning roundups, contracted federal employees in boats from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services division corralled molting geese from the two lakes in the city's Washington Park.
The birds, who are unable to fly away during their early-summer molting season, were loaded into crates and taken to a poultry processing facility and butchered, the agency said. The meat is to be distributed to food pantries in unspecified Colorado counties.
This is the first time the city has hired a contractor to process the birds for human consumption and is part of the city's updated plan for goose management.
The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in charge of the culling is the same agency that helps with "depredation" of wildlife from the country's airports, the parks department said.
The agency has been clearing wildlife from airports since a flock of Canada geese almost took out a 2009 US Airways flight that had left LaGuardia airport in the "Miracle on the Hudson," incident.
In New York, Wildlife Services staff capture Canada geese at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International Airport and harvest the meat to give to needy families. The culling process in New York has led to protests by bird lovers over the years.
The USDA donates the meat from captured Canada geese "when allowed by state regulations," Tanya Espinosa of the Wildlife Services wrote in an email. In Denver, authorities declined to identify the poultry slaughtering site used for the park geese, but said it was "state-inspected."
In 2012, culled airport goose meat was donated to upstate New York food banks with warning labels not to consume more than two servings per month because of possible environmental contamination, according to Politico. A USDA spokesperson said the culled geese from Denver were safe to eat.
The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank in Harrisburg received meat in 2011 from the USDA's Canada goose New York airport kills.
"The meat is valued by our clientele and moves out of there very, very quickly," Kendall Hanna, then-executive director told CBS that year.
But the food bank's current director, Joe Arthur, said in an email the agency had not received meat from airport goose culling since then.
Roasted Canada goose once was popular in the United States, especially as a holiday meal, and its gamey red meat has been called the "roast beef of the skies." But the meat can be tough. Recipes often call for a four-hour marinade bath or crock-pot cooking.
Over the past 50 years, resident Canada geese have found the manicured grass and lack of predators in urban and suburban areas to their liking, leading to a population boom across the United States. The animals are protected by the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
Municipalities across the country have tried relocating the waterfowl with cannon nets and drive traps; frightening them with lasers, pyrotechnics, paint ball guns and plastic crocodile heads; and chasing them with border collies and an orange drone called the GoosInator.
The Virginia-based GeesePeace organization works with cities as large as Greenwich, Conn., to coordinate volunteers to chase the animals with dogs, or participate in "egg addling" every spring in which volunteers coat eggs in nests with corn oil, preventing them from hatching.
"At Lake Barcroft in northern Virginia, we have five beaches and no Canada geese," said David Feld of GeesePeace. With a steady hazing effort, the community keeps geese from hanging around, he said. "They come back to nest, and we treat the eggs and then they go."
The Humane Society of the United States officially objects to "killing wild animals simply because they are regarded as nuisances."
In Denver, the new goose management plan was developed within the guidelines of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said Scott Gilmore, deputy director of the Denver Parks and Recreation department, and a wildlife biologist.
Gilmore said the parks department has been working on "geese management" for at least eight years, the entire time he's been with the agency.
About 5,000 resident geese wander throughout Denver County, and each one produces about a pound of poop a day, Gilmore said. The goose poop creates a "bacterial load" in the city's lakes and streams that has led to algae blooms.
When about 30,000 migrating geese join the city's resident population in the winter, "You're talking an astronomical amount of feces that's going into our waterways," Gilmore said, noting that significant staff time was spent just cleaning park sidewalks of goose poop.
Last winter, an outbreak of "new duck disease," a parasitic infection caused by overcrowding, killed about 100 waterfowl in metro-Denver parks. The disease is not communicable to humans, officials said.
The Denver parks department oiled "about 1,000" eggs this year, but there were "still a lot of goslings." Some of those younger birds -- which Gilmore said had grown to "juveniles" --were among those netted in Denver by the cullers.
Gilmore declined to specify the number of geese trapped in Denver, but goose trappers can cull a maximum of 2,200 Canada geese in a year, according to rules from the Department of the Interior.
Feld, of GeesePeace, was skeptical that culling would significantly cut down Denver's goose population more than a multi-year commitment of egg-addling and chasing the geese away when they weren't molting.
But Denver authorities say they're trying everything at their disposal to make the parks more usable to visitors.
"[Goose culling] isn't to get all the geese out of all the parks in Denver," Gilmore said. But right now, "people can't go out and lay a blanket down without getting goose poop all over." The point is to "let people enjoy the parks," he said.