Gassing of geese gets activist’s dander up

Colts Neck health officer
defends town

By larry ramer
Staff Writer

Gassing of geese gets
activist’s dander up
Colts Neck health officer
defends town’s action
By larry ramer
Staff Writer

Geese who call Colts Neck home are at the center of a controversy between town officials and a state activist.

At the end of June, federal and state officials killed more than 250 geese living in Colts Neck by using carbon dioxide gas, according to published reports. The township has received permission to be part of a federal program in which state and federal wildlife biologists kill geese, Colts Neck Health Officer Bill McBride said.

"The geese population is out of control now in the northeast and will reach staggering proportions if population control is not practiced now," said McBride, who added that the township is "inundated" with geese.

The birds’ feces can cause diseases in humans and the feces also "creates a nuisance by covering every square inch of fields and picnic areas" in township parks, McBride added.

In addition, the birds’ feces raise bacteria levels in lakes by depleting oxygen levels in the bodies of water, said McBride, citing the opinion of a health expert from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. This, in turn, raises bacteria levels in oceans and causes beach closings, said McBride, who contended that geese feces in Spring Lake’s Wreck Pond have been directly related to beach closings.

On the other hand, activist Betty Butler of Rumson contends that massive killings of geese fly in the face of reason. She believes there are other, more effective ways of keeping the geese population under control.

"If you kill geese and don’t deal with why they are there, more geese will just come in to fill the void you’ve created," Butler said.

She maintains that if certain steps are taken to alter the birds’ habitats, they can be made to leave certain locations or contained within a given area.

The geese need to have easy access from food sources on land to drinking water in ponds or lakes, so building fences around or in bodies of water will result in the birds leaving, Butler contended. Another option is to plant rows of shrubs, creating areas that obscure the vision of the birds, which see out of the sides of their eyes, she said. If this is done, the birds will not go into these areas, she said. Using trained dogs to scare the geese away can also be effective. These methods have worked in West Long Branch and at a golf course in Rockland County, N.Y., according to Butler. In West Long Branch, she said, the geese have been contained to an area surrounding the lake by means of fences and shrubs.

Butler disputed the contention that geese feces create health problems for hu­mans. A Harvard University professor of microbiology, Dr. Timothy Ford, contends that "there is no possibility that the Canada goose will ever be a major route of infec­tion" for human beings, according to writ­ten material provided by Butler.

Another expert, Dr. Milton Friend, the director of the Wildlife Research Waterfowl Disease department of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, writes that "we have been wading in … dead birds up to our elbows … there is not a single docu­mented case of any of us coming down with any kind of disease problem as a re­sult of Canada geese."

In the Spring Lake case, Butler con­tends that the beach closings have been caused primarily by materials carried by pipes into Wreck Lake and Black Creek.

McBride countered by saying that geese have to be killed in order to control their exploding population.

"Where are all these geese going to go?" he asked.

However, McBride did agree that other measures, such as attempting to render geese eggs infertile and using habitat man­agement techniques can be effective if used as part of an "integrated approach" that includes killing geese.

The geese population in the northeast has reached 1.2 million and will double to 2.4 million in four years if their population is not controlled, McBride said.

Butler claimed that geese population figures are usually inflated.

If the birds are not killed, their numbers will spiral out of control, said McBride, who maintained that West Long Brach of­ficials have not been happy with the results of their habitat alteration strategy.

Several attempts by the News Transcript to reach West Long Branch of­ficials for comment on this matter were un­successful.

Another issue of contention is the means by which the birds are being killed. Butler, who said the geese in Colts Neck were killed using carbon dioxide gas, calls this method of killing illegal, inhumane and dangerous to human beings. The use of carbon dioxide gas was outlawed in New Jersey in 1988 because it is extremely toxic, Butler said.

The applicable law prohibits the use of carbon dioxide gas on "domestic animals," but Butler said her lawyer, William Strazza, believes the law applies to geese. This highly toxic gas will endanger the people carrying out the exterminations, who wear no protective gear, and the gas that remains inside the birds can escape into the atmosphere and endanger humans, the activist added. Thousands of these dead birds are being placed in landfills, she added.

"Using carbon dioxide poison gas to kill these birds is obviously inhumane," Butler said.

In one method of using gas to kill the birds, the workers place each adult bird in a cage. Sometimes the gas does not fill the cage immediately and the bird can struggle to stay above the gas for up to an hour, Butler explained. Another method involves putting the birds into containers inside a pickup truck and filling the truck with the carbon dioxide gas, but sometimes the gas escapes and endangers the people carrying out the exterminations, according to Butler. The carbon dioxide gas compresses the birds by replacing the oxygen in the birds’ body with carbon dioxide. This, in turn, causes the birds’ hearts to burst.

McBride said the Monmouth County Health Department has determined that the geese feces are a factor in causing ocean closings. The birds’ bodies are buried in landfills and do not endanger humans, he added. McBride said he would rely on the state and federal wildlife biologists, whom he called "gifted, talented, and caring peo­ple," to research the appropriate method for killing the birds. He also added that us­ing carbon dioxide gas is "absolutely not il­legal."

"These people are in the business of managing resources, not destroying species," McBride concluded.