Canadian Geese

Impact of Canada Geese in the U.S. (GEESE Case)

     Case Number:        278
     Case Mnemonic:      GEESE
     Case Name:          Impact of Canada Geese in the U.S.


1.  The Issue

     Canada geese, once treated unequivocally as beautiful symbols
of the majesty of nature, are now perceived by many East coast
American suburbanites and business-people as just common pests, no
different than rats.  Lately, the geese have populated suburbs,
golf courses, parks and recreational waters in ever-increasing
numbers, and their droppings and penchant for short-cut grass have
sparked several angry reactions.  As a result of new behavioral
patterns--namely the recent unwillingness to migrate to Canada, as
their name would imply--reinforced by the spread of suburban
developments and golf courses, laws protecting Canada geese have
come under attack:  the geese's protected status, many feel, no
longer reflects their actual conditions in the wild.  Both private
and commercial concerns have pressured the federal and state
governments to allow thinning of the geese's population that will
benefit productivity across several economic sectors, namely the
tourism service sector.  The Canada geese case-study presents an
interesting policy dilemma:  how much should the environment be
protected--is there such a thing as too much protection?

2.  Description

     Canada geese are protected by the United States Fish and
Wildlife Service under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and
the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929.  The former, the
implementation of a 1916 convention signed by the United States and
Canada, prohibits the hunting, possessing, purchasing and exporting
of migratory birds "or any part, or egg of any such bird." 
However, the Secretary of the Interior is also authorized to
legalize temporary hunting of migratory birds "based on due regard
to distribution, abundance, and breeding habits."  States may
implement additional laws that are tougher in enforcement. 
Violations of this act constitute federal felonies and are subject
to fines and imprisonment.  The Migratory Bird Conservation Act
authorizes the funding and maintenance of wild migratory bird
refuges. (see MIGRATE case)

     The controversy over Canada geese concerns whether or not they
are, in fact, migratory and hence privy to federal protection. 
Canada geese--as their name implies--until recent years regularly
migrated to northern Canada for the summer.  But over the last 20-
25 years, many geese have chosen to remain south of the border, and
the populations of these non-migratory geese have grown into the
millions, with geese situated in eastern states from Maine down to
Virginia.  Aerial observations of some flocks have led to the
conclusion the number of geese has doubled since 1975 and will
continue to grow if present trends continue.  

     Why have the geese lost their biological impulse to migrate? 
Besides protection from game-hunters, the geese have been
encouraged by the spread of suburban developments, corporate parks
and recreational areas.  Canada geese prefer the short-cut,
manicured grass found on golf courses and on the properties of
suburban corporate headquarters over the wild tundra of Canada. 
The shorter grasses, besides providing a plentiful source of food,
afford the geese security--they can better monitor predators with
the clearer views.  Furthermore, the pools and ponds that normally
accompany these developments are perfect sources of still drinking
water.  In a short time, then, the  geese have learned that the
environment created by humans was much closer to goose paradise
than they would experience in Canada, and chose to stay.

     While the complacency of these beautiful birds may be a
godsend to naturalists, they have been a nightmare for farmers,
recreation service providers, and tourists.  Geese often invade
local farms to eat corn and other grain crops, leaving farmers with
substantially less for harvest.  The construction of dams in the
1950's and 1960's has created more area for standing water, and
irrigation ditches lead the geese straight to the fields.  The
geese also compete with sheep and other livestock for grazing land. 
In the end, farmers have to spend considerably more on fertilizer,
feedstuffs and geese prevention measures.
     A sector of the economy that has been particularly effected by
non-migratory Canada geese is golf.  Golf courses are perfect
habitats for Canada geese, with plenty of rich, short grass and
ponds.  Course managers have to spend thousands of dollars annually
to repair greens and fairways and to clean up goose dropping for
the convenience of their members.  Parks and recreational lakes and
ponds face similar damage costs, as did the Aqueduct Racetrack in
New York state, where hundreds of geese had taken up residence on
the infield, refusing to leave until they had substantially ravaged
the turf.

     A more serious threat posed by the thriving Canada goose
population is interference with ground and air travel.  Goose and
gosling crossings on major roads can create back-ups and fender-
benders, as many drivers swerve or stop suddenly to hitting them. 
Canada geese have been particularly problematic for airliners,
because a goose sucked into an engine can cause considerable damage
and put crew and passenger lives at risk.  Finally, the Canada
geese's droppings pose various health and physical hazards to
humans.  Goose manure is very slick and can contribute to broken
ankles and other serious injuries if stepped on.  But it also
breeds the bacterium E. Coli, which promotes flulike symptoms in

     The Canada geese have so adapted to their new sedentary     
existences, they have learned to ignore the various means employed
to shoo them away.  Apparently, these geese will barely ruffle a
feather when shots are fired or when scarecrows and flags are
displayed in their view.  The frustration of the several business
interests noted above has gotten to the point where the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service and its state counterparts have given in and
sanctioned limited hunting seasons on Canada geese.  These hunts
are justified as population-thinning measures on a species that has
temporarily transcended its "endangered" status.  Thousands of
geese have been killed in these hunts, with bag limits ranging from
3 to 5 geese per day per hunter over a 10-day season.  

     The Department of the Interior has also sanctioned the limited
sterilization of Canada goose eggs (done by shaking or puncturing
the eggshell).  But appeals to remove the Canada goose from the
list of protected species have been denied.  Persons who kill
Canada geese without permission are still charged as felons; such
is what happened to employees of a Williamsburg, Virginia golf
course, who killed 39 geese with poisoned birdseed and were fined
several thousands of dollars.

     The hunts have predictably drawn criticism from bird-lovers,
who believe that the costs to agriculture, recreation and other
trades do not warrant such extreme measures.  Thus new methods have
been experimented with to simply chase the geese away from private
and commercial areas.  For instance, some people have invested in
grape Kool-Aid powder to sprinkle on lawns; the geese have a
digestive aversion methyl anthranilate, a natural compound found in
grapes that causing a burning sensation in their
stomachs.  Border collies have also been employed to shepherd
Canada geese on public spaces onto trailers for transport to
wildlife refuges.

3.  Related Cases:


     Key words
     1.  USA
     2.  BIRD
     3.  Species Loss Air
4.  Draft Author:  Jason B. Silberberg (May, 1996)


5.  Discourse and Status:  AGRee and COMPlete

6.  Forum and Scope:  United States and BILAT

7.  Decision Breadth:  2 (United States and Canada)

8.  Legal Standing:  TREATY (Migratory Bird Treaty of 1916)       
            also LAW (U.S. Acts of 1918 and 1929)


9.  Geography
     Continental Domain:  North America (NAMER)
     Geographic Site:  Eastern North America (ENAMER)
     Geographic Impact:  United States

10.  Sub-national Factors:  YES

     States are permitted to enact and enforce laws and sanctions 
that exceed federal protection minimums, and states may open
limited hunting seasons on Canada geese and can sterilize     
goose eggs with federal permission.

11. Habitat:  TEMPERATE


12.  Type of Measure:  Regulatory Standard

13.  Direct vs. Indirect Impacts:  INDirect

     Environmental laws affect the goose population directly     
by protecting the entire species.  But protection of Canada     
geese as indirectly affected agriculture and recreational services
by allowing the geese to multiply to the extent that various
sectors of the eastern U.S. economy incur more damages and/or

14.  Relation of Measure to Impact

     Directly Related to Product:  NO
     Indirectly Related to Product:  YES  Geese
     Not Related to Product:  NO
     Related to Process:  YES  Species Loss Air

15.  Trade Product Identification:  GOLF                          

16.  Economic Data

17.  Degree of Competitive Impact:  LOW

     The quantity of geese does pose a serious threat to air     
travel, but the actual probability of a Canada goose damaging     
a plane engine is very low.  In most other cases, businesses     
are inconvenienced by the amount of goose droppings on their     
properties, but the geese themselves do not seriously impact     
their economic performance.

18.  Industry Sector:  Services

19.  Exporter and Importer:  Many and USA


20.  Environmental Problem Type:  POLL

     The geese dump considerable quantities of their waste on     
suburban landscapes.  The waste is a health risk because it     
promotes bone injuries through slipping, and it can be a     
breeding ground for E. Coli.  There are possibilities for noise
pollution; when a lot of geese congregate in an area, the honking
can be considerable.

21.  Species Information
     Name:  Canada Goose
     Type:  Animal/ Chordate/ Bird
     Diversity:  about 2 million in the United States
     ICUN Status:  Rare (debateable; populations have rebounded   
tremendously under strict environmental protection laws.

22. Impact and Effect:  LOW and SCALE

23.  Urgency and Lifetime:  LOW and 10-14 years

Non-migratory Canada geese generally live longer than do their 
migratory counterparts, namely because they live out of range  from
natural predators and because they have stable sources of  food and

24.  Substitutes:  CONSERVATION


25.  Culture:  NO

     Insofar as a suburban lifestyle can be called a distinct     
culture, the presence of Canada geese has certainly altered     
that lifestyle.  Also, the explosion of the geese's population    
has favorably affected the "culture" of naturalists who are     
inspired by watching the geese fly in their V formation across    
the sky.  But beyond these very loose stretches of the term     
"culture," culture is not at risk.

26.  Trans-boundary:  YES 
    Fewer Canada geese are migrating to Canada because they are so 
pampered in the warmer United States. 

27.  Human Rights:  NO

28.  Relevant Literature

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May 10, 1996