Saturday, July 16, 2011
"When you're alone and life is making you lonely, you can always....." call USDA.
The famous Petula Clark song of the 60's came to mind yesterday when finally hanging up the phone (after more than an hour's conversation) with a USDA official from Virginia.
It seems these guys like to engage in conversation and can strangely enough, be fairly thoughtful and pleasant -- if not guarded, on the phone.
It was not my original intention to call USDA in Virginia -- but, ironically, it was in the back of my mind when picking up the phone.
However, the original call was made to USDA of New York State.
I was trying to find out when the NYC goose culls would end and if there was any plan to hit Central Park.
But, as usually occurs when calling agencies, one tends to get shuffled around.
When told the individual I was trying to get was "not around" and wouldn't be until late next week, I asked if there was someone else I could speak with that would have the information sought.
"You can try Scott Barass in Virginia." came the reply from a young, female voice.
"Well, yes, I would appreciate his number. Thank you."
As matters turned out, I was very interested in getting Barass because his name has been mentioned lately in articles concerning a planned goose roundup in Canterbury, Virginia:
I dialed the number and a youngish male voice with a slight southern accent picked up the line.
"Is this Scott Barras?"
I introduced myself and then told Mr. Barras the reason for my call.
But, of course he could not help with information about NYC goose culls. He referred me back to the USDA official in NY who was away for the next week.
....."But, while I have you on the phone, Mr. Barass, I'd like to ask you some questions about the goose situation in Canterbury, Virginia....."
And that led to the conversation that was well more than an hour long.
Barass claimed that the reason for the announced goose roundup next week in Canterbury was due to all the community "complaints" about the geese.
"You know, Canada geese are among the top three animal species we get complaints about." he saw fit to add.
"Yes, but surely you must realize that people always complain when they don't like something. The people who care about and admire the geese aren't going to call to tell you how much they like something and want the animals protected."
I then told Barass about the newspaper poll that indicated 2/3rds of the respondents voted "No" on the question of whether the geese should be exterminated.
"Well, that is not scientific," Barass said. "Trust me, we get complaints from businesses, property owners and farmers. The geese are very adaptable. They sometimes even nest on business awnings. People complain the geese get aggressive when nesting."
"Well, do you think that might be because the geese are being hunted, harassed, culled and squeezed from everyplace else? As you know, the geese are very safety conscious. They are protective of their mates and their young. They go to the places they perceive to be safe from danger and predators."
Barass did not directly answer that question. However, he did offer that last year, 16,000 geese were taken out by hunters in Virginia.
"The population is not in danger." he added.
"That might be debatable. I have read articles by hunters complaining about declining migratory and resident goose populations in Colorado, Maryland and other areas. Some hunters even complain that egg addling is having negative effects on the goose population."
"We advocate the use of non-lethal alternatives such as the oiling of eggs and use of dogs in areas where there is animal/human conflict." Barass replied. "But, sometimes people don't want to wait or make the effort for that."
"Well, if you are talking about that grossly obese woman on the news clip who bitched about cleaning up after the geese in her yard, she could use the exercise. The geese are doing her a favor!"
"That's mean!" Barass chuckled, but then added seriously. "You don't help your cause with that argument."
"Look, I have no problem with people struggling with weight problems. -- Except when the selfish attitude of some is to kill everything that gets in their way or causes inconvenience. Why didn't you tell that woman to simply get a dog or plant some trees or shrubs in her yard? Or, if she hates geese that much, why did she move near a lake?"
"We just have to address the complaints."
"Did you tell the complainers that in another week or two the geese will leave on their own anyway, once they get their flight feathers in?"
"But, the geese just fly to another community and then we get complaints from there."
"Well, what about the protests and complaints of the people who want the geese left in peace? Do they not count? Why do only those complaining about geese seem to have the last word? How fair is that?"
Barass was silent on that question.
I then asked Barass about the cruelty of rounding up geese in the heat, as well as what method was being used to kill them. "Are they being gassed or slaughtered?"
"We do not round them up in the heat. Last week I cancelled three roundups because it was too hot. We cannot stress out the birds. To your other question, they are being sent to a slaughterhouse."
"And after the slaughter? Do you send them to food banks?"
"No. We send to wildlife rehabbers to be fed to other animals."
"Why not a food bank?"
"Because the processing for that is only in the fall when hunters donate to food banks."
"That is interesting. Here in NYC, the claim is that the geese are being sent to Pennsylvania slaughterhouses and food banks."
Barass was silent on that statement.
I then asked, "Why do you refer to these killings as 'removals' or 'euthanasia?' Surely, the geese are not being removed to Shangri-La and death in roundups and slaughterhouses does not represent 'euthanasia.' These types of euphemisms are infuriating because they are misleading and distortive of reality."
"I NEVER say the geese are being relocated! It is clear they are being killed."
"I don't believe it is clear, Mr. Barass. Not at all. Still, the bottom line is that there are many people in the community vehemently against this carnage -- perhaps the majority. What does a mother say to her child who suddenly asks, 'Mommy what happened to all the geese?' How is it for the photographer who takes pictures of geese one day only to realize they have been sent to slaughter the next day?"
Barass didn't answer that.
And so, I continued:
"Why don't you call for a community meeting and seek some kind of compromise between the folks who want the geese gone and those trying to protect them? Surely, just rounding up geese and killing them is going to create division in the community and bad blood. It also doesn't do much for the reputation of USDA that is now being associated with mass animal exterminations."
Barass was also reluctant to answer that question directly, though seemed open to possibility of compromise.
From that area of conversation we went on to discuss airline safety and "bird strikes."
Barass claimed that when hitting planes, geese "really make a mess" as if to imply the collisions were deliberate on the part of the suicidal geese.
"Look, " I replied, "one eagle took down a plane in Alaska and one pelican forced a plane in Utah to emergency land. Is your solution to these problems to kill every bird over 4 Lbs who flies? Is that really an option? Why did planes go from four engines to two engines?"
"Good question," Barass seemed to agree.
We then discussed the behavior of the geese and how extraordinarily loyal, devoted, protective, smart and adaptable they were.
Barass didn't have arguments on that one, either. -- Even when I talked about how other birds often look to the geese for safety and security. In fact, he seemed to concede accuracy.
In the end, I could not tell if Barass was being agreeable on many points just to placate me on a late Friday afternoon or whether he actually admired the geese on some inner, spiritual levels and had actual reservations about the announced kill next week.
And so ultimately, I simply begged Barras not to go through with the roundup and to consider a community meeting to push for compromise and alternative, non-lethal methods.
He was non-committal, but did not seem entirely closed to possibilities.
Barass did however, give me the name and number of an important USDA official in New York City to contact about the NYC goose cullings.
"Ba Humbug, it sounds like,' I chucked. "I will probably be doing a lot of Ba Humbugging when speaking with him."
Barass laughed at that one. "He's actually a nice guy," he added.
One never knows the effects conversations like these actually have, with USDA officials -- if any at all.
But, I came away from the exchange with the feeling we needed to have more of them.
(It seems the USDA hears from too many of the other folks clamoring for eradications of the geese.)
That, and a song from Petula Cark out of the 60's.
"When you're alone and life is making you lonely, you can always....." call USDA. -- PCA