Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A (Sometimes Deadly) Numbers Game

 One of the reasons I have been borderline obsessive about trying to keep a daily and accurate count of the number of the geese at Central Park, is because these days, we have to be constantly on top of the situation if we care about protecting the wildlife in our parks.
I regret that, although observing waterfowl at the park last year, I did not keep an actual count or log of the geese seen and exactly where and when.  Nor, did I differentiate between "migratory" and "resident" geese observed.
That all changed of course, with the roundups and gassings of the entire resident goose population at Prospect Park on July 8th last year.
Gassings that in fact, occurred in other city parks and locations (not Central Park) and added up to more than 2,600 Canada geese from New York City being massacred. Most of it without public knowledge.
However, since I did not keep an actual count of geese last year, I cannot say for sure now if the numbers seen presently are higher or lower than in recent years.
It "seems" to me that they are in fact, lower. But, I have no actual evidence to point to that.
The reason why this "numbers game" becomes so critical is because it obviously determines what happens (or doesn't) to the geese in our public parks.
Since the Prospect Park goose gassings last summer, other geese flew into the park at various times appearing to the fill the spaces of those killed.
But, the key word in that sentence is, "appearing."
The reality however, is that migrating geese do not fill the vacuums created by massacres of resident geese.   Rather, the traveling geese take up temporary residence for a while and then move on to either wintering locations (in late fall) or nesting and molting sites in the spring and summer.
That is what seems to be happening in Prospect Park now from all pedestrian reports and goose counts we currently have.
Whatever geese moved in temporarily to winter in the park or stopped over briefly during spring migrations appear to be moving on now to established nesting or molting sites.
And the key word in that sentence is, "established."
The fact is, that there is NO established goose population to perceive Prospect Park the "home base" now as the established geese were all wiped out last summer.
But, what about the "egg addling" program that has been promised for the new geese at PP this spring?
First guess is that it probably isn't necessary since PP is not a home (nesting) base for any geese who are currently there.
But, even if a few new geese might attempt to breed, it would be to establish a home base.
If the eggs are oiled, then such would prevent that from happening and essentially keep empty the location, from any actual "resident" or long term geese.
While a case can be made for egg addling in locations where established goose families might be breeding beyond the human tolerance level, how can that same case be made for areas where the entire resident goose population has been decimated?
Even Central Park allowed two resident goose families to procreate last year and none of the geese were rounded up and gassed.
And yet, even now, Central Park is not being over-run with populations of reproducing geese.
The only Central Park geese I personally observe nesting are the same two parent geese from Turtle Pond who have returned to the same breeding site this year.  (Presumably, the case might be the same in the south end of Central Park where two mated geese apparently produced offspring last year.  That is, presuming the parent geese survived the winter.)
Meanwhile, the general resident goose numbers in Central Park remain quite low.
Only four at Turtle Pond right now.  Sixteen at Harlem Meer as of yesterday.  None seen at the Pond.  And only two at the lake.
Because Canada geese have been under such assault nation-wide due mostly to exaggerated claims of "overpopulation," (or citing of inflated numbers during migrations and temporary stopovers),  it is absolutely critical that all those who care about wildlife, (especially those animals in our parks) be able to log and document actual resident numbers, as well as be able to project likely reproduction patterns in the future.
Of course, "non-lethal" measures of population control have a place in some of our interactions with wildlife these days and are certainly preferable to extermination campaigns.
But, the question becomes, are they necessary or even desirable -- especially in areas where wildlife populations have already been decimated either naturally or via human hands?
The goal after all, should not be extinction of all resident populations of geese -- especially since the numbers of migrating geese are already lower and under threat.  -- PCA

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