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Richmond shoots for a solution to snow-goose problem

Thousands of snow geese congregate in a rural field in Ladner, B.C., on Monday.


If you're a snow goose, the place to go is Richmond.

And that's becoming a problem.

Attracted by lush parks and playgrounds, plus a munificent council that banned the public from hunting them, snow geese have been flocking to the municipality in such numbers that they are damaging the landscape.

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Where once perhaps 20,000 migratory snow geese stopped off in the region on their way south, there are now up to five times that many, and their winter refuge has become increasingly permanent.

"It's quite jolly for them here," said Richmond councillor Harold Steves, who first saw the problem a few years back when several thousand snow geese suddenly materialized out of nowhere on his own small plot of farmland in neighbouring Steveston. "There are all these wonderful parks, and they don't get shot at. This is paradise."

But snow geese repay their happy landings by ripping up the grass for the tasty roots below and leaving behind fields of feces. They have been steadily moving inshore, since over-grazing reduced their traditional marshland habitat to mostly mud.

Now, those who recall bagging snow geese for dinner when hunting was legal in Richmond are calling for a bang-bang solution to get numbers down to a level that's manageable.

"There's hunting in Delta, and there's no goose problem there," Dale Vidulich, head of the B.C. Wildlife Federation's waterfowl committee, said Monday. "We're probably at a point of saturation. Something's got to be done about it. My view is that opening up more areas to hunting is the best solution."

Mr. Vidulich said he's been hunting snow geese since he was a kid. "They make great sausages, and they make a great stew."

Before hunting was banned in Richmond, Mr. Steves would shoot about 20 snow geese a year. "That was enough to keep you in snow goose, once a week, all winter," he said. "Their meat is way better than turkey and chicken."

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Mr. Steves said an organized cull may be necessary to curb the swelling numbers of snow geese in Richmond.

"They'll starve themselves, eventually. But do we let them starve themselves, while they destroy our parks? I'm not promoting a cull. I'm saying that a cull may be the only option."

Yet, the sight of thousands of snow geese blanketing a field or park rarely fails to evoke awe, particularly when they suddenly take flight in a blizzard-like flash of white.

It's why Richmond authorities are treading carefully on the matter, which Serena Lusk, manager of the city's parks program, was careful to call "a challenge, rather than a problem."

Ms. Lusk acknowledged the damage the snow geese do to parks and school sports fields. "But they are part of the natural ecology of Richmond, and many people enjoy taking photos of them, and looking at them in our parks."

So, instead of contemplating something as drastic as the re-introduction of hunting or a cull, Richmond is training volunteers and their dogs to have at the snow geese and drive them somewhere else. The municipality also pays local farmers to plant winter crops relished by snow geese, giving them more munchies to choose from.

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"We are trying to be more efficient in our response," Ms. Lusk said.

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