Montclair Environmental Commission pushes for no-kill policy
BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
The Montclair Environmental Commission is pushing for a measure to stop the euthanization of geese used in the past as part of Montclair’s wildlife maintenance plan.
Two geese roundups and euthanizations, of about 25 geese each time, were done in Montclair in 2007 and 2017. Under state wildlife laws, captured geese must be humanely euthanized — rather than relocated — to prevent the geese from returning to where they were captured and prevent the spread of diseases such as avian influenza to other birds and wildlife.
“I am just concerned that until we draw the line and take it off the table, it’s always an option,” said MEC member Suzanne Aptman, who has been advocating for non-lethal geese control methods.
A Canada goose, which on average weighs 20 pounds, defecates 1.5 to 2 pounds of feces each day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The fowl took up permanent residence at Edgemont Memorial Park and Yantacaw Park decades ago. Both parks boast bodies of water that the geese are drawn to.
While at Edgemont it’s park goers who mostly contend with the geese and their waste, at Yantacaw the geese encroach on neighbors’ yards that border the park. Some nest in their gardens.
“I do agree with non-kill as a philosophy, but we have to at least listen and be sensitive to those neighbors that in some cases have found it an untenable situation,” said Mayor Robert Jackson. “They are worried about their kids and pets getting sick.”
For nearly a decade, the township has used both dog hazing and egg addling as alternative methods of controlling the population, conducted by Goose Control Technology of Metuchen. In the past, the town had also employed Geese Chasers North Jersey, a firm that uses dogs a few times a week to chase the geese away between January and April. From May to July, when the geese lose their feathers and can’t fly, the hazing ceases until their feathers grow back. Egg addling is done in April and May, and entails either puncturing the egg or covering them with vegetable oil to prevent hatching. The geese lay two to eight eggs per nest. The incubation period is 25 days.
According to Community Services director Steve Wood, Goose Control Technology provided hazing and addling at Yantacaw Brook Park and not at Edgemont in 2019 due to a geese deterrent pilot program. Geese Chasers' last year of hazing service for the township was in 2018.
Tom Sullivan, president of the Yantacaw Brook Park Conservatory, said he is concerned with placing a “never” on euthanization. He said that currently there are 150 migratory geese that aren’t migrating from the park, possibly due to the warmer-than-usual winter weather.
“We support all humane deterrents, we are not eager to kill geese, but this is a real health issue,” he said, adding that he wishes the MEC would also look at the health and safety of the residents, pointing to their mission.
MEC secretary-treasurer Janet Shapiro said the geese born in Montclair do not leave. She said her dog has been sick a few times from the goose droppings, and worries about her grandchildren playing in the yard.
“Nobody has a good answer,” she said.
Last spring, at the suggestion of the Environmental Commission, the township installed nine geese deterrent lights around the pond at Edgemont from Away With Geese, a company specializing in products to repel Canada geese. The lights, costing Montclair $4,487, appear as predator eyes to the geese and deter them from staying at night. The geese may graze during the day, but are not supposed to become overnight guests.
After the installation of the lights at Edgemont, the town stopped the use of the hazing and the egg addling at that park.
William Wallach, president of the Friends of Edgemont Park, said that the lights alone are not working, and geese droppings on the grass and walkways are preventing residents from using the space.
“Last year’s changes to geese management in Edgemont Park were ineffective and allowed 14 new goslings to be born there, the first in a decade. The condition of the park’s paths and fields quickly became unacceptable for people,” he said.
Shapiro said the geese adapt to the deterrents.
Aptman disputed criticism over the lights’ effectiveness and said that the geese were down by 80 percent.
“In 2013, residents came forward against [euthanization] and were told it was not being considered,” said Aptman. But, she said it was done again in 2017, pointing to why a formal resolution is needed by the town to prohibit the killing of geese.
Aptman said she is concerned with the vendor hired by the town being given the authority to make the call on euthanization.
“It’s inhumane and doesn’t achieve the goal it’s supposed to,” she said, noting that the fall and winters birds are migratory. “They are pond hoppers. There’s no way to deter them without killing all the geese on the eastern seaboard.”
The Montclair Environmental Commission has also recommended landscape changes, a “liquid fence” derived from grape extract, and a contractor to clean up the poop as a more humane way to handle the goose population. Aptman also suggested egg addling only of non-viable eggs by testing if they float in a bucket of water, per the suggestions of Geese Peace, a nonprofit organization advocating for humane treatment of the birds.
In the meantime, Wallach said that for this spring, addling and “other time-tested methods would resume at Edgemont in order to prevent more goslings from being born.” The goal is that euthanization would be used as a last resort. However, he said, “the park exists for the enjoyment of people; not geese.”