What is North America’s most dangerous creature? If you ask the passengers and crew who amazingly survived US Airways Flight 1549, the Canada goose would be top of mind. Dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson,” Pilot Chesley Sullenburger was forced to bring his plane down on the river in 2009 after a flock of the eight-pound birds knocked out all its engines.
A recent report by the U.S. Department of Transportation cites Canada geese population growth as a serious danger to air traffic. The fact geese travel in large, dense flocks, combined with their sheer numbers, makes catastrophic multiple engine failure more likely. The report says bird strikes are occurring at a rate five times that of 1990. Given this increasingly serious threat to air safety, it’s surprising commercial air operators and airport authorities haven’t launched a major campaign aimed at culling the geese population.
Air travel hazard isn’t the only reason our namesake bird is increasingly reviled on both sides of the border. Parks and playgrounds littered with goose feces are not only revolting, but also a real health hazard, particularly to children.
Amazingly, for almost a century, Canada geese have been protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act. Even though Canadian Wildlife Service officials recognize the birds cause unacceptable damage and danger, getting permission to cull them is fraught with bureaucracy. And the limited, wild-wetlands seasonal hunting that is allowed has no impact on non-migrating urbanized residential populations.
Canada geese aren’t the only problematic species that thrive among us. Deer populations have exploded in many parts of the country, including here on southern Vancouver Island. And, like geese, deer present both a safety and commercial threat. A just-published report by a citizens advisory group appointed by the Greater Victoria Regional District, listed some 12,000 deer/vehicle collisions over the past decade, resulting in 21 fatalities, 2,200 injuries and millions of dollars in damage. The report also cited increasingly frequent injuries to adults and children, as well the risk of disease transmission.
This region is replete with small farms and market gardens growing fruit and vegetables. Roadside produce-stands along bucolic side roads are immensely popular. But alas, many farmers are losing so much of their crop to deer predation, their farms are no longer commercially viable. The citizens advisory group recommends that “population control measures should be carried out, in the most humane manner possible.” This is music to the ears of both farmers and deer-infested neighbourhoods, yet there’s no assurance common sense will weather the storm of protests from animal rights groups which oppose what they term “knee-jerk, trigger-happy immediate gratification. Ironically, many of these same activists tend to support the 100-mile diet movement that considers locally produced food superior, while opposing deer-culling measures needed to save local farmers from bankruptcy.
Both the pro- and anti-cull camps state the deer population should be reduced to “natural levels.” But human-dense regions are inherently “unnatural” since we either deter or actually destroy predators found in the wild. Almost every week, cougars that have entered residential areas to feast on the lethargic and abundant deer are either tranquilized or shot. Likewise, traditional geese predators such as coyotes are discouraged or eliminated due to attacks on cats and dogs.
The reality is that there’s only one predator that can control urbanized geese and deer populations. We need to get on with that job, and soon.