The goose cullings have ended (for now). Now can Denver’s parks be fowl-proofed? 

Animal rights activists hope so. The city isn’t taking anything off the table.

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Sam Brasch

Sleep safe, resident Canada geese of Denver. The city has stopped its cullings.

Last week, Deputy Parks and Recreation Manager Scott Gilmore said the second season of goose removal had ended in city parks. The USDA wildlife biologists contracted by the city removed 517 birds from four locations.

Most geese came from Sloan’s Lake, where the officials loaded more the animals into crates to be shipped to a slaughterhouse. Gilmore said the meat would once again be given to needy families following safety tests.

Here’s how many geese were culled from Denver’s parks this year, courtesy of the Denver Parks and Recreation Department:

  • Sloan’s Lake – 227 geese
  • Harvey Park – 55 geese
  • Garfield Lake – 125 geese
  • Garland Lake – 110 geese
  • Barnum Park – Did not need to cull as numbers are sustainable
  • City Park Golf Course – Did not need to cull as numbers are sustainable

While the number of geese culled this year is about a third of the total culled last year, Gilmore said the latest round brought Denver’s resident Canada goose population to manageable levels. As a result, the controversial culling program is on hiatus. The program has drawn national media attention and vehement protests from local animal rights activists.

“We will not have to cull geese next year, no matter what,” said Gilmore.

He hopes the city will never return to goose culling, but he said that will depend entirely on revamped non-lethal control measures. The department plans to recruit volunteers to apply corn oil to more goose eggs, which stops oxygen from flowing through the shell and suffocates the embryo. It’ll also keep running its Goosinators, a remote-controlled water skimmer the city uses to haze the birds.

Other methods are new. The city plans to start chasing geese on its golf courses with trained border collies. In the parks, where off-leash dogs might give people bad ideas, Gilmore said his department plans to set up coyote cutouts to achieve a similar effort.

The city is also changing the landscapes at parks to be a little more goose-proof. A prime example is the shore of Grasmere Lake in Wash Park. Rather than keep with the old English tradition of turfgrass sloping into the water, the city has seeded tall native grasses, sedges and bushes around the perimeter of the lake. Denver Parks and Recreation plans to create similar buffers at all the lakes and ponds in its parks over the next five years, according to Cinceré Eades, the Parks Resiliency Principal Planner.

Gilmore said the taller vegetation is less appetizing to hungry flocks of Canada geese. It also makes the birds uneasy, because they no longer have a clear sightline to watch for predators. He added the new plantings have also created habitat for other species, like egrets and herons.

“Seeing the coots and the swallows and all the other stuff is a lot more rewarding than coming out and seeing a thousand geese,” said Gilmore.

Carole Woodall isn’t satisfied with the city’s efforts, lethal or otherwise, to control the goose population. After the first round of goose removal last year, the associate professor became a founding member of Canada Goose Protection Colorado.

“I, along with so many other citizens, literally felt kicked in the gut by what was happening in the parks,” she said.

Over the last year, the group has pushed Denver officials to set specific, quantitative goals in its goose management plans. The recent cullings are just the latest example of what frustrates Woodall. At the start of the season, the city planned to take up to 400 geese from six parks and golf courses. In the final analysis, the city ended up taking far more geese from fewer locations.

“After careful analysis of population data from each park, it was determined that two of the locations had a sustainable resident goose population and therefore, culling would not be necessary,” explained the summary of the recent management efforts.

“We have asked: What does sustainable mean?” said Woodall. “If you say that sustainable happens to be no more than 20 geese, how have you come up with that determination?”

In an email, Denver Wildlife Program Administrator Vicki Vargas-Madrid acknowledged “sustainable” is a subjective measure, based on how geese respond to a range of management strategies and their overall impact on park ecosystems. The city’s goose management program has set numerical goals, though. A survey with Colorado Parks and Recreation has estimated 5,000 to 5,500 resident geese tend to live in Denver parks. The goal of the culling efforts was to reduce the population by about 40 percent.

“The final report for 2020 is not complete yet, but preliminary numbers are showing that objectives have been met,” said Vargas.

Meanwhile, Canada Goose Protection Colorado has also pushed Denver to commit to only relying on non-lethal strategies from now on. The demand has been echoed by some big names in the animal rights movement. Jane Goodall, the famed chimpanzee scientist, wrote a letter to Denver with the request. Marlon Reis, the husband of Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado’s first gentleman, has also asked the city for the same commitment.

“At the very least, release a statement that says culling will not be used in future years to manage municipal populations of Canada geese in Denver,” said Reis.

But that’s not something Gilmore said he’s willing to do. He said it’s his job to control the goose population for the good of the parks and their human visitors. Given how quickly geese can reproduce, he’s not willing to take any options off the table.

“A reality of wildlife management — is that you have to manage wildlife,” he said.

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