DENVER, July 25 (UPI) -- A wildlife protection group filed a lawsuit in federal court against the federal agencies involved in culling at least 1,600 Canada geese from Denver's public parks this summer. The agencies failed to follow federal protocols to determine whether the goose meat, distributed to a local food pantry, was safe for consumption, the suit states.
Friends of Animals alleged that the USDA's Wildlife Services branch and State Director Martin Lowney, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not complete an environmental analysis when they "conducted clandestine raids on the Canada goose population in four of Denver's parks resulting in the slaughter of thousands of geese," the complaint said. The suit was filed in Denver District Court.
"The objective is to get the City of Denver to follow the lead of other cities and distance themselves from this wanton killing of wildlife that is promoted so heavily by Wildlife Services," said attorney Michael Harris from Friends of Animals. "Other communities are using less lethal services to address conflicts with geese."
The city's parks department hired the federal contractors, who also manage wildlife at Denver International Airport, to round up the geese in four Denver parks during molting season in early July, when the animals lose their flight feathers.
The geese were taken to a poultry processing plant and made into meat to be distributed to the needy, the parks department said.
In Denver, hundreds of demonstrators protested the culling at public parks around the city.
A 2014 study by the USDA showed that consumption of wild geese culled from parks and public areas may pose a "health risk" because the geese may have been exposed to environmental contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB, the complaint said. The report also found "contaminants of concern."
In Denver, some of the ground Canada goose meat was distributed through an anti-hunger organization called Metro Caring. The organization serves more than 100 families per day in Denver in a "choose" model, where people pick their own groceries from the pantry.
Earlier in the month, the organization's nutritionist prepared the meat for clients, serving it in breakfast dishes and chili.
The meat in Denver was labeled with "standard USDA warnings about consumption," said Judith Ackerman, Metro Caring's head of corporate engagement and marketing.
The complaint also claims the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred in issuing a depredation permit under the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
The Denver Parks Department announced they had ended the culling and would be reevaluating the program going forward.
Although the Wildlife Service would not comment directly on pending litigation, Spokeswoman Tanya Espinoza called Canada geese " beautiful waterfowl" in an email. She said problems with overpopulation of the animals includes: "overgrazing of grass, ornamental plants and agricultural crops; accumulation of droppings and feathers; disease; attacks on humans by aggressive birds; and the fouling of reservoirs, swimming areas, docks, lawns, and recreational areas."
There were about 5,000 resident Canada geese in Denver before the culling, Denver Parks Deputy Director Scott Gilmore told UPI. Each goose produces about a pound of poop per day, Gilmore said.
The culling plan caused controversy with waterfowl experts across the country.
Waterfowl rescuer Arlene Steinberg said in an interview that Canada geese are "the most family-bonded of waterfowl." She called roundups separating lifetime mates and goslings "brutal."
"Parks always do this around the Fourth of July because there are going to be crowds and that's when the geese are molting and can't get away," she said.
David Feld, of Virginia-based GeesePeace, said other large U.S. cities were able to manage resident Canada geese with a combination of scaring the animals off with trained dogs and "egg addling" where volunteers coat eggs in nests with corn oil, preventing them from hatching.
The Denver parks department oiled "about 1,000" eggs this year, Gilmore said, but still the parks got "a lot of goslings."