Wildlife authorities kill over 100 geese at Sloan’s Lake as culling enters its second year in Denver

Why isn’t anyone trying to save the rats though?
4 min. read
USDA biologists herd Canada geese into an enclosure to be culled from City Park, July 1, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Federal authorities won't kill as many geese this year as they did last year because, well, the geese population has waned at Denver parks since the city started its "culling" program to cut down on poop and clean the water.

Denver Parks & Recreation Deputy Manager Scott Gilmore said biologists with the United States Department of Agriculture hit Sloan's Lake Park on Tuesday in 2020's first round of geese culling, which entails rounding up the birds -- it's molting season and they can't fly -- and hauling them to a meat processing plant where they are killed and turned into food for hungry families or wildlife rehab centers, depending on the meat's quality.

The USDA captured about 130 birds at Sloan's Lake Park, Gilmore said. That's a fraction of the 2,200 captured and killed last year. The USDA aims to take around 400 geese out of city parks this year, the second year of a three-year program aimed at reducing nuisance complaints by residents, making room for more waterfowl species, curbing damage to parks and preventing the poo buffets enjoyed by Denver's dogs but not their owners.

"We're getting close to our goal," Gilmore said.

In addition to Sloan's Lake, this summer USDA crews will take geese from Garfield Park, Harvey Park, Barnum Park, Garland Park and the City Park Golf Course, according to city documents. Gilmore would not say when the culling will take place because Parks & Rec gets notified just 12 hours prior to each culling, he said, and because he and others have received "disturbing" phone calls, texts and emails that he believes threaten their safety.

Culling is common around the country, but after Denverite broke the story last year, local wildlife advocates became enraged at the idea of humans killing geese in their own backyard. Some protesters showed up to Mayor Michael Hancock's 2019 inauguration with signs reading "Goose Lives Matter," a co-option of the movement to protect the lives of Black people from racist police officers.

Animal rights activists tried and failed to stop Denver's 2020 culling operation by filing for an injunction in federal court. Judge Raymond Moore declined to halt the operations on July 6, court documents show.

Advocates claimed the USDA's permit for culling geese fails to account for the geese killed last year, and that the permit violates the Migratory Bird Treaty Act because they "are merely causing a perceived nuisance," Canada Geese Protection Colorado said in a statement.

"This lawsuit is an absolute necessity because it calls into question a profit-driven government agency that's making decisions for the benefit of stakeholders while silencing the voices of advocates for America's wildlife," said Carole Woodall of Canada Geese Protection Colorado.

During a meeting of the Denver Parks and Recreation Advisory Board on Wednesday, animal rights advocates said the approximate $100,000 price tag of culling geese is a waste of money when Denver faces a massive budget deficit. They also say that rounding up and killing geese is inhumane.

"Killing Canadian geese, who have the emotional intelligence compared to that of human children ... only brings great harm to a misunderstood species and the individuals that value their quality of life and existence," said Elizabeth Holland, a veterinary technician and a member of Canada Geese Protection Colorado.

But Gilmore, a biologist, said the geese cause problems for humans, and that humans are humanizing them. He compared them to rats -- relatively intelligent warm-blooded mammals that the city kills, but who don't have a group of people advocating for them.

"You don't see anybody out there with signs saying, 'Don't kill the rats,' right?," he said. "It's a reality. People see the geese and they see the goslings, and they're attaching human characteristics to the geese. Rats are not something people attach to because they're not cute cuddly."

Humans have a relationship with geese in part because they built parks that cater to them, biologists say. The parks' human-made lakes offers safe harbor from predators (which humans have mostly ousted) while the non-native Kentucky bluegrass lets geese survey the area for danger -- and eat forever. The turf, which stays watered by humans, is a never-ending food source that attracts them to city parks.

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