Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Control" of Nature and Geese a Delusion?

Who knows better their "optimum population?" The geese or us?
 Admittedly, I was never a math wiz in school.

Perhaps that explains why I have trouble figuring out the math of the Department of the Interior, the USDA and other wildlife agencies.

But, according to these agencies, New York State has an estimated 250,000 Canada geese and the "optimum" number is 85,000.

That means 170,000 geese are slated to be killed one way or the other:

This is the justification behind most of the expanded hunting of Canada geese in recent years as well as USDA goose culls.

But, is 250,000 Canada geese in New York State really "too many?"

I live on the Upper East Side in Manhattan.  I would wager we probably have 250,000 people in just my neighborhood.

There are 12 million humans in New York State.  Each one of us is at least 3 times the size of a Canada goose.

So how and why are 250,000 geese in a state the size of New York considered "too many?"

If we don't consider 12 million humans in the state too many, how can we possibly say this about a bird that lives mostly in water and eats low on the food chain?

Moreover, who determines what an "optimum number" is for any species and how exactly do we get to and control it?

It reminds me of a quote once read:  "The more we control, the more we have to control."

As previously noted in this blog, Canada geese were almost hunted to extinction in the last century.

But, realizing they were on the verge of losing a favorite shooting target, hunting clubs and wildlife biologists worked feverishly to prevent actual extinction and "restore" the Canada goose population through captive breeding programs and release of thousands of birds, particularly in the north east.

Apparently, the program was so "successful" that some 30 years later, we are whining that we now have "too many" Canada geese and in New York State we need to wipe out 2/3rds of them.

But, what happens if the eradication program is as "successful" as the program to restore Canada geese?

Will Canada geese eventually go the way of the passenger pigeon?

Or, will they become the bird equivalent of the forever "wily coyote" cleverly figuring out ways to compensate for all of man's predations?

So far, it appears more similar to the latter than the former, but in nature, anything can change depending on mostly unpredictable climate, biological and environmental factors.

It seems very difficult, if not impossible for humans alone to create or maintain an "optimum" population of any wild species.

It appears we may be deluding ourselves with thoughts and goals of such.

Wild animal species such as elephants, rhinos, tigers, polar bears and thousands of others are being poached to near extinction or losing their numbers due to habitat loss and other climate and environmental factors.

Other animal species are able to adapt to and in some cases, thrive despite human predation, habitat loss and environmental changes.

Canada geese, for the moment, may be among them.

But, the "for the moment" is important to consider for (as noted), anything can change.

Most animal species are (under normal circumstances) fairly adept at self-regulating their populations to correlate to their environment's abilities to support them.

Those animal species with few natural predators, breed less often and have fewer offspring, whereas most "prey" species reproduce more to compensate for losses and/or early deaths.

Would not Canada geese do the same?  They are, after all, intelligent animals who are not hell bent upon self destruction through overpopulation.

Wildlife managers and hunters often make the argument that since we have nearly wiped out most natural predators of Canada geese (such as foxes, eagles and coyotes) in residential areas, goose numbers need to be "controlled" through hunts or culling programs.

But, foxes, eagles or coyotes would never annihilate ALL the geese in an individual location or 2/3rds of the geese in a state.

From what I have seen and read, most predators rarely have an easy time catching their prey. Its hard work in most cases and they are lucky to capture an old, sick, injured, slow or very young animal.

But, when USDA "Wildlife Services" goes into a residential park or golf course, they capture EVERY goose they can get -- and that is usually all when the geese are molting and incapable of escape.

There is nothing like that which exists in the natural world.

I don't know what all this obsession with "optimum numbers" and human "management control" of Canada geese will ultimately result in.

So far, it has neither been "optimum" (whatever that is) or ideal.

In less than a century we have gone from near extinction of Canada geese to what is now deemed "overpopulation" and seemingly fanatical, barbaric and unnatural means to "reduce" goose numbers.

But, one thing seems certain:

"The more we control, the more we have to control."

Yes, perhaps control really is a delusion.  -- Particularly, control of nature.

Perhaps we should just let the geese "control" their own population as we have decided that most humans should regulate their reproduction.

Most intelligent individuals (whether animal or human) know whether to breed or not and when.

Indeed, it is probably one of the few things that most humans and animals are truly in control of. -- PCA



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