Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fooling with Mother Nature

According to recent newspaper articles, there are an estimated 3.89 million Canada geese residing in North America.
These same articles clamor for various "control" methods to be used against geese from oiling eggs (to prevent hatching) to harassing the geese with dogs, pyrotechnics and a variety of other stressors to actual cullings or expanding hunting.
Though presented as "news," with few exceptions, the articles are cookie cutter, dressed up press releases from the USDA.
They may carry by-lines, but rarely do the reporters ask critical and salient questions.
What are the questions that should be asked if a (responsible and inquiring) reporter is assigned an article on the supposed "need to control," harass or cull Canada geese?
Well, first of all, what kind of numbers are we talking about?
If looking at the numbers quoted for the entire continent, then almost 4 million Canada geese for all of North America doesn't seem to represent a figure that needs to be either "controlled or culled" by humans.   
Rather, it seems the geese are doing a pretty good job of figuring out their ideal population growths to suit the environments in which they live as well as ensure survival of the species.
But, what about the goose numbers residing in public parks or golf courses where "visitors complain about goose droppings?"
Well, in those cases, reporters might question exactly where these complaints are emanating from?
Geese are waterfowl who primarily eat grass, plants and small insects.   As such, they need to be around or very close to water almost all of the time.
It should be presumed that those grassy areas situated immediately adjacent to ponds or lakes (whether natural or man-made) are going to naturally attract waterfowl as well as contain droppings of any birds that graze on grass.
However, to claim that the droppings from waterfowl are "toxic" to either the grass or the water is to defy common sense and essentially pick a fight with the design of nature itself! 
It is like claiming that excrement from fish is "toxic" to oceans!
But, what about the "nuisance" and "pest" claims of the complainants?
Unfortunately, just as there are people who fear or hate those humans who are in some way "different" from ourselves, there are also people who, for whatever neurotic reason, resent, are fearful of or hostile towards animals.
One week their target for complaints might be dogs, cats, deer or pigeons.  Another week it might be the geese in their local park lake.
It does not seem either prudent or wise to run our world based upon the fears and intolerances of those either hostile towards other humans or animals.   
For those truly "bothered" by Canada geese or other wildlife, they are probably best advised to stay inside 100% "controlled" building environments and not venture out into nature.
We just can't turn the entire world into a plastic, antiseptic bubble, nor should that be a goal.
Returning to press people and what kinds of questions should be asked if covering this issue:
Certainly, if promoting the idea of destroying the viability of Canada goose eggs, the question needs to be asked about the likely long range effects and consequences on goose behavior and mating patterns of "fooling" and disrupting normal procreation?
It is of course, the drive in all species to reproduce and ensure species survival.
Exceptions to that are when we neuter pet animals such as dogs and cats.  (Reality is we do not have enough responsible human homes to place all the potential offspring of these pets.)  
However, in removing the sex organs of pets, we thus also remove their normal drive to procreate.
That is not true when oiling the eggs of mated, wild, Canada geese.
On the contrary, the geese (not realizing what has occurred) continue to sit on the eggs and protect the nest.
Moreover, in having failed in one attempt to reproduce, the geese are likely to attempt procreation again and again.  Probably, more than normal.
Remember the old commercial admonishing that, "It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature!"?
Well, not only is it "not nice," but its also highly unpredictable.
The truth is, we really don't know what long range impacts wide spread egg oiling (destruction) will eventually have on the geese.
At the very least, it has to be very stressful, confusing, unnatural and dispiriting to the individual geese to sit for weeks on eggs that will never hatch.
Continual failures to procreate could potentially lead to disruptions in mated fidelities (an issue because Canada geese normally mate for life.) OR adaptations by the geese to compensate for the predation. 
The geese might obsessively lay more eggs.  Or, build nests and lay eggs in difficult areas for humans to get to. --  Such as rooftops, terraces of apartment buildings or high rock formations.
One could argue that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
We cannot expect that there will be NO consequences for our constant interferences in normal wildlife patterns and mating behaviors -- often for trivial or overly inflated cause.
All of this is not to say that we should never take actions to either support wildlife or address real and serious (life threatening) issues of human/animal conflict.
But, we have to pick such "battles" very carefully and realize, there are always consequences --especially when disrupting or interfering with normal wildlife behavior. -- Behavior that has been set over the course of thousands of years by nature itself.
In some cases, the consequences will be far more dire than the frivolous and exaggerated "complaints" the original actions were designed to address.
After all, how utterly stupid, cruel and wasteful will it look to send a team of Border Collies out on a lake to "harass" less than a dozen peaceful geese?
How do we then answer the questions and complaints of those who ask what happened to all the other birds disrupted and chased off the lake along with the few geese?
And how to answer those complaints from garden apartment residents about wild geese suddenly and inexplicably building nests and laying eggs on their terrace balconies?
Not really.
After all, we destroyed the eggs where the geese normally lay them.  
What else were the geese to do?
More than half a century ago, we captively bred and released Canada geese throughout this country.
We thus created a native population of "resident geese."
Having made that bed, we should now lie in it.
The geese have adapted to us and we should likewise adapt to them.
It is, after all never nice to fool with Mother Nature. 
When assigned to write articles about the "need" to control, manage, harass or cull Canada geese, the main question reporters should thus ask is:
"WHY?"   -- PCA

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