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Urbana Parks Plan ‘Charity Harvest’ To Control Goose Population

Crystal Lake Park has seen a significant increase in its goose population in the last several decades.

URBANA – In an effort to manage the growing goose population on its properties, the Urbana Park District is planning to remove geese from Crystal Lake Park, kill them and donate their meat to local food banks.

This is the first year the park district is turning to the so-called “Charity Harvest.” And it’s become a divisive topic in the community.

At a virtual public Urbana Park District board meeting last week, community members voiced their thoughts on the new goose management plan.

Some Urbana residents are opposed to killing the geese, while others say they support the Charity Harvest because geese have become a nuisance.

The Charity Harvest plan comes after the goose population has grown significantly in the last several decades, says Tim Bartlett with the Urbana Park District.

“I’ve been with the district 28 years and it’s compounded,” Bartlett says. “We’ve counted as many as 120 geese in one seasonal period. That’s a lot of geese for a relatively small lake.”

The Urbana Park District placed signs about their Charity Harvest plan to receive input from the community. Reginald Hardwick/Illinois Newsroom

In the 1970s, Canada geese were given protection under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act to conserve their dwindling numbers. Since then, the birds have increased in population and settled near urban areas in the U.S.

Urban areas are quite convenient for the geese, with plenty of water, food and well-manicured grasses.

The geese at Crystal Lake Park have actually stopped migrating back to Canada and have made Urbana their permanent home.

“We’ve created the perfect habitat for giant Canada geese throughout the state with our parks, golf courses, our yards and all of the water features,” says Ben Williams, with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “Because of that, and because of their ability to adapt, they’ve started to become a nuisance. I can tell you that Champaign-Urbana is quickly on the rise in terms of goose-human conflicts.”

This is the first year the Urbana Park District is teaming with the USDA in implementing a culling action to reduce the numbers of geese. Reginald Hardwick/Illinois Newsroom

An over-population of geese can create hazards for humans as well as the environment, says Scott Beckerman, with Illinois USDA.

“Sometimes when they’re nesting and defending their nests, they can attack people,” Beckerman says. “Sometimes the water quality may change because the number of droppings left by geese can alter the balance in that water.”

Bartlett says the Urbana Park District has tried to manage the issue with numerous non-lethal methods over the last few years, such as scaring the geese away with dogs or coyotes, or using lasers and flashing lights to disperse them to other areas of the park.

They’ve tried sprays and repellents, as well as nest and egg management techniques to stem the amount of goslings born each year.

But Bartlett says nothing has worked.

“While they had temporary impact, it didn’t last and many of the techniques are fairly expensive,” Bartlett says. “Ideally you want to see dramatic improvements, [and] we just haven’t see that.”

In extreme situations like this one, park districts team up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help implement a program to cull the geese. That’s where Scott Beckerman with the Illinois USDA comes in.

“We would work directly with them to round up those birds in the late spring, early summer,” Beckerman says. “And like all other poultry, they humanely euthanize the birds, and process them into ground goose meat that is then distributed to food banks for distribution to needy people.”

Beckerman says the USDA hasn’t yet pinpointed any local Champaign-Urbana charities or food banks where the meat could be donated.

geese babies
Christine Herman/Illinois Newsroom

In recent years, other states, including Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri have taken similar measures.

At the board meeting, the Urbana Park District did vote to apply for a goose culling permit. If the permit is approved, they plan to move forward with the Charity Harvest in June or July.

But in Urbana, some opponents to the plan remain—like Viktoria Ford. She says she hopes that before the Charity Harvest, the park district will reconsider and find some alternatives to killing the geese.

“I’m looking at compromises, I guess,” Ford says. “Possibilities so that it doesn’t have to be so severe and they aren’t killed.”

The Urbana Park District says they plan to continue a dialogue and welcome input from the public on the issue.

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