Goose deaths divide lakefront community

JW and Nancy Lyon let cattails and other fauna grow next to the lake on their property. The geese don’t like to fly over the natural buffer to get to the lawn.  - Rebecca Leisher / The Record
JW and Nancy Lyon let cattails and other fauna grow next to the lake on their property. The geese don’t like to fly over the natural buffer to get to the lawn.
— image credit: Rebecca Leisher / The Record

GREENBANK — The killing of 19 Canada geese and goslings at Honeymoon Lake has some community members outraged and saddened.

The geese disappeared in late June amid community controversy over what to do with them. At a community board meeting the month before, a few residents complained about the geese and, more specifically, their poop.

After the meeting, some walked away thinking the birds would not be killed. There was an agreement to post signs warning not to feed the geese, and community club board members also postponed a vote on having the birds shot in favor of exploring other methods to get rid of them.

“There was nothing ever said about killing the geese,” said Linda Fauth, a Honeymoon Lake property owner.

“When we left that board meeting we were all under the assumption that alternative methods meant they were going to post the signage — as they said they were going to do — and ask people to stop feeding the geese and contact the USDA for information on addling eggs,” Fauth said.

“When we left it was really our feeling that we were reprieved at least until Aug. 28,” said Nancy Lyon, who lives with her husband JW by the lake. “That was when they were going to vote on it again.”

Then the geese went missing.

The Lyons began asking around the neighborhood until they discovered that board president Miriam Morin and vice president David Anastasi called in the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services to remove the 19 geese.

They believed USDA Wildlife Services netted and gassed the geese to kill them, as they commonly do.

But the 19 geese on Honeymoon Lake were actually shot by a field specialist with USDA Wildlife Services, Assistant State Director Ken Gruver said Friday.

Morin signed a contract June 22 with USDA Wildlife Services to “remove resident geese from community lake,” citing lawn and landscape damage. She signed a payment of $860 of community funds to USDA for the service.

Gruver said communities are required to approve both the removal and the technique of removal before USDA Wildlife Services carries out the acts.

At the May board meeting, a motion was passed unanimously to hire USDA Wildlife Services to “use alternative methods, not to exceed $1,000.”

Another motion was also passed unanimously to “postpone the vote to allow the discharge of firearms until the next board meeting.”

JW Lyon, who has served on the board in the past, said the Honeymoon Lake Community Club bylaws require the secretary’s approval on spending community funds as well as the president’s. He said the secretary never signed off on the agreement.

Morin did not return calls requesting comment.

Anastasi, who lives in Bellevue, declined to comment about the goose controversy to the Record, calling it a “community issue.”

Anastasi, however, had complained about the geese at the May meeting, and said he has to shovel 40 to 60 pounds of goose droppings from his lawn each time he visits his lakeside vacation home. He also said the geese have attacked his German Shepherd dog.

Others also wanted the birds removed, and a few Honeymoon Lake property owners wanted to let hunters shoot the geese.

Honeymoon Lake is one of many communities in the Puget Sound to be divided over how to handle geese, and what they leave behind, when their waterfront neighborhoods become unplanned sanctuaries for the traditionally migratory birds.

Historically, Canada geese have simply passed through Western Washington as they flew south after nesting in Canada, but in the last few decades, the geese have started settling in more urban and residential environments in the state.

Man-made changes in habitat, increases in food supply and a lack of natural predators have created environments that foster population growth of non-migratory geese, which hatch an average of six goslings per mated pair each spring.

As geese settle in parks and communities such as Honeymoon Lake, they start to become a nuisance for some residents and visitors.

But not all Honeymoon Lake community members see the geese as a problem.

Health issues surrounding geese are disputed: Gruver said too much goose poop can contaminate the habitat, while the Humane Society of the United States insists scientific studies don’t show goose poop to cause any “special threat.”

Fauth, a veterinary technician, said the lake is tested for bacteria and nitrate problems and that all tests have been negative.

The Lyons left their Seattle condo for more spacious living on Honeymoon Lake seven years ago and said they enjoy the rural and laid-back atmosphere of the island.

They said they have never felt the need to clean up after the geese.

“We’ve never shoveled goose poo out of our lot; we just mow it right in. It’s not that there isn’t any — we’ve never shoveled it though,” Nancy Lyon said. “That’s why our grass is so green.”

They also left a natural buffer of cattails and let other fauna grow along the edge of the lake. They said the geese don’t like to fly over it to get to the lawn; when they do make it onto lawns, they’ve waddled up the shore where homeowners have mowed right down to the lake.

“We feel it’s important to try to live with the environment,” JW Lyon said.

Fauth agrees.

“Most of us live on the island because we want to live in harmony with nature, not destroy it,” she said. “If you want to live in the city and have a sterile landscape around you, that’s great — stay in the city.”

Steve Ellis, president of the Whidbey Audubon Society, said managing habitat is one of the more effective methods for mitigating the presence of geese.

Ellis said a woman called him for advice about the Honeymoon Lake geese before they were killed. He explained several goose control methods he found to be most effective, including growing longer grass, building fences, egg addling (a practice that prevents the eggs from hatching), using trained dogs to scare the geese away and, above all, restraint from feeding them.

“The lethal option should be the option of last resort,” he said.

Ellis was surprised when he learned the geese were killed.

“It didn’t make sense to me that it had to be done so quickly.”

Lynsey White Dasher, an urban wildlife specialist with the Humane Society said many of these non-lethal methods are not only more humane, but also more effective.

After receiving complaints from several community members concerned about the plans, she emailed board members April 27 urging them to abandon plans to kill the geese.

In her email, Dasher included materials and resources on several humane, non-lethal methods the community could try. The Humane Society advocates limiting flock growth with egg addling or goose contraception; harassing geese with dogs, lasers, noise and other methods; and changing habitat so it’s less attractive to the birds.

The organization also says killing geese without changing the habitat that attracts them will not solve conflicts with Canada geese for very long, as other geese will simply move in.

Indeed, shooting the geese has not solved the problem. Eleven new geese showed up on the lake last week.

Fauth and the Lyons hope the incident will inspire other communities to research non-lethal methods to control goose populations.

“We don’t want other communities taking this drastic action,” Fauth said. “There are other humane ways to deal with this.”

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