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Published in Providence Business News (September 9, 1996)

If you’re honking, you’re probably a golfer, golf course owner, farmer, or one or the other victims of the thousands of geese inundating Rhode Island.

If you’re not honking, you’re probably wondering why anyone could hate such a benign and beautiful bird, one of the better known symbols of migratory wildlife.

Part of the problem is that the troublesome geese are not migratory – they are born and reared in Rhode Island, they like it here, and they have no travel plans.

The rest of the problem is that there are too many of them, they eat too much, and they leave too much behind.

Consider North Kingstown’s municipal golf course, where you can find more geese than golfers. A flock of 50 or 60 will waddle just where they please, whether it be a tee, a green, a fairway, or the driving range. They can disrupt play and they leave a mess, some of which golfers find on their spikes.

Other golf courses in the state have complained to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (“DEM”) about the problem.

Golf courses are particularly attractive to geese, which look for lots of grass, open space, and nearby water. Suburban office parks with rolling lawns and ponds, and residential complexes with similar amenities are also tailor-made. Geese have also been known to take over private swimming pools and to frequent cemeteries.

Unfortunately, the geese eat the grass down to the nubbins, despoil the landscape, and contaminate the water.

Each year the problem gets worse. The geese live longer and have more goslings.

The problem is not confined to Rhode Island, but has plagued many of the eastern states. New Jersey is estimated to have 50,000 year-round geese. Martha’s Vineyard has an estimated 4,000 local geese, and Virginia has so many it has taken to capturing and relocating them. In some states, geese have resulted in the closure of public areas, such as beaches, because they have so befouled the landscape.

As for dealing with the problem, the clearest answers are what not to do.

Do not pursue, hunt with intent to kill, take, destroy, or have in your possession any goose or gander. If that sounds like something right out of the law books, it is. Violate it and you can be prosecuted by the state, according to a DEM official.

Apparently even stay-at-home geese are also protected by federal law, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. (One Maryland golfer found himself in the docket when he reportedly used a golf club to send a goose to its reward. Whether this had more to do with the goose or his game is not known.)

In Rhode Island geese can be hunted by licensed hunters during the winter season (January 15th to February 15th). Because of the severity of the problem, Rhode Island has worked with federal officials to implement an “early hunting season” for geese, from September 11th to September 25th.

Hunting alone is not the answer, as DEM’s Charles Allen notes, since many Rhode Island communities prohibit hunting.

Other approved geese control measures include stringing nylon fishing line above watering spots, preventing access and encouraging the geese to move on, and spraying a distasteful grape concentrate mixture on grass, causing the geese to move to greener pastures (literally, since the extract is purple).

Other remedies have included using explosive devices, noisemakers, flags, balloons, shiny tape, and even small remote-controlled boats and airplanes to scare the geese away. None has worked well.

There have been some successes. DEM’s Allen reports that Alpine Country Club controlled the problem with Border Collies. Border Collies reportedly also eliminated geese from Dow Jones and Company’s 175-acre headquarters in South Brunswick, N.J., according to an article in the Smithsonian. By confining the geese to the pond, and depriving them of access to the grass, the Border Collies convinced the geese to settle elsewhere.

Perhaps the most original approach, reported in the Smithsonian article, was taken by the Arden Golf Club in Old Greenwich, Conn. There the superintendent kept plastic swans, adult and young, in the ponds, which geese avoid, knowing that swans with their young are vicious. This discouraged all but the boldest geese. To prevent the heroics of a few from attracting a flock, the golf course had someone stalk the venturesome geese as a hunter would and then fire blank shells. That proved too much for even the bravehearted.

Whatever the remedy, it is clear that until a solution is found, it is the geese who will be doing the honking.

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