Friday, April 29, 2011

Last Bastion of Paradise?

(Photo:  Mama and Papa goose at Turtle Pond. Their eggs now vanished and presumably, destroyed.)
One of the main reasons I moved to the Upper East Side of Manhattan many years ago, is because of its close proximity to Central Park.
But, Central Park was very different then.
The Great Lawn wasn't really a "lawn" in the 1970's.
Rather, it was a big patch of ground where people brought their dogs every morning to run and play.
In fact, much of Central Park was in a semi-wild state then - or much like the Rambles or North Woods is now.
Central Park did not attract the millions of human visitors and tourists it does now.  It could in fact, be a dangerous place at night, more noted for its muggings than softball fields and running paths.
But, it was a wonderful and quiet spot to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the big city.  It was a little piece of real nature in the middle of Manhattan.
And there were lots and lots of birds and other wildlife.
In fact, I am told that rabbits used to live in Central Park, though I never personally saw any.
Sadly, the rabbits are long gone, as are almost all the raccoons and even most of the pigeons (though pigeons are starting to make a comeback.)
I never saw a Canada goose in Central Park in the 1970's.  
The geese were apparently tottering on the brink of extinction in those days due to over-hunting and habitat destruction.
But, things change of course.  Sometimes, for the good.
Hunters were able to bring back Canada goose populations (as a "game" bird) through captive breeding and later release of the descendents throughout the North East.
Since however,  these birds were hatched in the United States, the geese had neither instinct nor training to "migrate" to northern countries.  They instead, became "resident" (or, what I call, "native") Canada geese.
Moreover, it seems the geese didn't really appreciate their status as a "game bird."  Apparently, many of them opted instead to take up residence in the "off limits" to hunting areas of urban parks and golf courses.
But, over time, that has not set well either with the parks or golf courses.
And that bring us to where we are now:
The widespread efforts and various tactics to "get rid of the geese" in urban and suburban settings.  The tactics can include (but are not limited to) cullings, gassings, harassment with dogs or pyrotechnics and destructions of eggs ("egg addling").
Mama goose at Turtle Pond has lost her eggs!
I went to Turtle Pond the other day to check on the mated pair of geese I call "Mama" and "Papa" due to the two geese successfully raising six goslings last year at the pond.
Mama had been once again sitting on a new nest of eggs in the rocks by Belvedere Castle for almost two weeks.
But, when going to the pond the other day, Mama was nowhere to be seen and the nest appeared empty!
Papa goose swam around on the pond looking a bit lost.
Feeling panicked that something might have happened to Mama, I sought out a Park Ranger and asked her about the empty nest and missing mama goose.
"Oh, sadly, the eggs vanished," the Park Ranger told me.  "We think a raccoon might have gotten them.   But, the mother is fine.  Saw her flying around earlier with the gander."
Now, one might believe the raccoon theory -- provided there were actually raccoons around Turtle Pond.  But, I haven't seen a raccoon in that location in more than a year.  (According to park officials,  most of the raccoons had "rabies" last year and had to be destroyed -- though some were supposedly released back to the park after determined to be healthy.)
But, even had a raccoon managed to get to the goose nest, its hard to imagine any animal getting all the eggs without being attacked by the gander.
I did notice what appeared to be a black garbage bag a few feet from the empty nest.
Perhaps it blew in from another location, but it seemed strange and almost too coincidental  to be there in the middle of the rocks and so close to the goose nest.
I did stay around Turtle Pond for a while hoping to see Mama.  I was close to tears worrying that something happened to her.  At that point, I wasn't even seeing Papa goose.
Then, from somewhere near the castle, both geese suddenly appeared and flew straight across the pond together!
The two mates swam eventually towards the little pier, presumably to greet some people tossing treats out on the water.
Relieved that Mama goose was OK, but distressed about her vanished eggs, I then noticed something else troubling at Turtle Pond:
A fisherman casting a very long line over the water!
I had noticed earlier that the "No Fishing" signs had been removed from Turtle Pond and that had concerned me.
But, now there was actually someone casting a huge line out and no one was admonishing him.
I once again consulted with the Park Ranger.
This time I was told that the DEC determined that fishing could occur at Turtle Pond.
"But, that's CRAZY!" I retorted.  "What about all the turtles here?  What about the birds?  Who is going to rescue these animals when they are ensnared in fishing lines?"
"You're looking at her," the Ranger answered solemnly.  "Look, we don't like this any better than you do," she continued. "Of course, its going to mean more animals injured. But, its apparently what some people demand.   You might want to contact the DEC or parks commissioner. Unfortunately, we have no say in the matter."
Yesterday, I made two telephone calls.
I called Central Park Conservancy and Park Commissioner Benepe's office.
The Conservancy was unaware that the fishing policy at Turtle Pond had been changed.  "But, we say 'No Fishing' on our web site for Turtle Pond!" the gentleman told me.
"Well, sir, the 'No Fishing' signs were removed from Turtle Pond and I was told the DEC now condones fishing there."
Frustrated, the gentleman told me that there is always "conflict between what some park goers want and others don't."   He didn't seem to have a remedy for the fishing question, though conceded it could be bad for the waterfowl or even some wandering children getting potentially hit with a fishing line in the small grassy area of Turtle Pond.
Other things were troubling in that particular conversation.
I asked the gentleman (who I will not name here) what might have happened to the mama goose's eggs.
"Are you addling goose eggs or using other harassment techniques on the geese in Central Park right now?" I asked.
"We work with Goosebusters, but have not used them as yet," the man told me.   "You have to remember that many geese eggs don't survive.  Things happen in nature."
(Well, if that is true, then why are we addling goose eggs in so many locations?   I wanted to ask this question, but didn't.) 
Instead, I asked, "Why do we need to harass the geese when their numbers are so low in the park these days?  I am counting a total of less than 20 geese on the whole north side of the park."
"There are not a lot of waterfowl in the park right now, because they fly north in the early spring.  Food supplies are low in the park this time of year."
"Food supplies low?"
With all the new grass and plants, its hard to believe the waterfowl food supplies low in our public parks. Moreover, the ducks and geese I DO see don't appear hungry. (Certainly, not like they were over the winter.)   This statement made little sense to me. But, I could not contest it not being an expert on goose and duck diets.
However, if true that waterfowl food supplies are low in the spring, one has to wonder why the "No Feeding of Waterfowl" signs are up?   Is this to hope that ALL the ducks and geese leave Central and other parks because there are "low food supplies" and people are forbidden to feed?
As noted, it was a frustrating and confusing conversation.  One which raised more questions than it answered.
My next call was to Parks Commissioner, Benepe's office.
I didn't get Benepe directly, but did get someone high in his office.
That gentleman seemingly agreed that fishing at Turtle Pond could be "very problematic" and he assured me, he would take the matter up with the DEC and get back to me.
But, who really knows?
One hears so many different things, one doesn't know what to believe and what not to.
I think much ultimately depends on whether other people actually complain about matters like these.
Is it really just a matter of what the gentleman from Central Park told me -- "conflict between what some park goers want and others don't."?
Obviously, those who want fishing at Turtle Pond got to somebody important.
And obviously, those who hate geese for whatever crazy reason "got to" someone.
I will probably never know what really happened to Mama goose's eggs.
But, earlier news out today describes and actually shows video of goose eggs being destroyed at Prospect Park.
The geese have nowhere safe to go these days. 
Meanwhile, part of me would like to go back to the Central Park of the 1970's, muggings, warts and all.
I bet had the geese been at the park then, they would have been left in peace.  They would have been safe.
But, these days, despite the ball fields, running paths and other human amenities of our public parks, the fact is, if we want the wildlife protected, then we have to be willing to speak up and fight for that.
Otherwise, try to get your photos and videos now of whatever geese and other wildlife remains in our public parks, for they will surely not be there tomorrow. 
The last bastion of paradise and safety is gone.  -- PCA

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