Effort mounts to save geese on Honeymoon Lake

A pair of Canada geese and their three goslings are among those marked for death as they graze on a Honeymoon Lake lawn early Thursday morning. The killing has been approved by a federal agency

Plans to kill a few geese and goslings that annoy some residents of a Greenbank lake community have upset fans of the waterfowl and spawned an online petition drive to save them.

Board members of the Honeymoon Lake Community recently signed a contract with a federal agency to euthanize the four adult geese and three goslings that took up residence on the lake this spring. The board caused a stir last summer by bringing in federal agents to kill 19 honkers that lived there at that time and upset some residents by pooping on lawns.

“There are many of us homeowners around the lake that love the geese, but we were outvoted,” resident Theresa Delap said.

This year, community members are trying to stop the killings. Aubrie Keegan, a South Whidbey resident, started an online petition in an effort to convince the board members to change their decision. The address is www.change.org/petitions/honeymoon-lake-board-and-community-members-stop-the-killing-of-honeymoon-lake-s-migratory-geese-and-goslings.

The petition gathered 675 signatures after just a week. “The killing of the geese has become a much bigger issue than just Honeymoon Lake,” Keegan said, noting that she’s been contacted by concerned people from as far away as Canada.

Among those who signed the petition are lake residents John and Nicole Dobmeier, whose children enjoy the geese and watching the babies hatch.

“Nine years ago we chose to make Honeymoon Lake our home, a place to raise our children in an environment respectful of nature. I am offended by those who have stripped my children of a responsible, educated life with nature,” Nicole Dobmeier wrote on the petition site.

John Dobmeier is the chairman of the new wildlife committee for the Honeymoon Lake community. He explained that the community members approved a measure to control the geese population by a vote of 21 to 13 in March. He said people get to cast votes based on the number of lots they own, so the larger landowners dominated the vote.

He’s argued that the community should be spending money on non-lethal ways to control the geese, but some residents are adamantly opposed to having any geese on the lake.

“The bottom line is that we need to change some people’s opinions on wildlife,” he said.

Aristana Firethorne, a South Whidbey resident and animal advocate, agrees.

“It’s pretty ironic that people who hate the geese the most are the ones who are making their yards the most inviting,” she said.

If the petition doesn’t work, Keegan is also mobilizing an effort to have the geese moved to another location, but she would have to get a permit and that takes time.

Delap said she was horrified last year to hear the distressed geese being shot and killed at night. The community board contracted with a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, called the Wildlife Services, to eliminate the big birds. The federal agency is charged with resolving wildlife conflicts.

Delap said the president of the community board spearheaded the goose-killing effort because he doesn’t like that they poop on his waterfront lawn, even though he lives in Bellevue and stays at the Honeymoon Lake home on weekends in the summer.

The small lake sits just above Honeymoon Bay Road. Some of the lakefront is undeveloped, but eight houses have lawns that reach all the way to the water.

The board president, David Anastasi, and other members of the board didn’t return calls for comment. But John Dobmeier explained that the majority of board members believe that the geese hatched at the lake have imprinted on the area and will always return. He said the board believes they have to get rid of the geese for three years in a row to break the cycle.

The main concern, Dobmeier said, is the goose droppings.

Ken Gruver, the assistant state director of the Washington Wildlife Services, said Canada geese are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but they can be eliminated if they pose a nuisance. He said a large goose population has taken up residence year-round in Western Washington, even though they are not indigenous to the area. It’s natural for them to stop by during migration, he said, but not to stay.

Gruver said the clearing of brush and planting of lawns, particularly on shorelines, has created more food sources for the geese. Predators are less common in developed areas. Unfortunately, the resulting proliferation of nonmigratory geese creates problems, particularly due to the droppings they leave behind. He said it’s not uncommon for beaches to be closed because of the goose poop or for parks to become overrun with the quarrelsome waterfowl.

As a result, the agency has targeted the resident geese. Gruver said the agents only kill geese at the request of cities, towns and neighborhood associations. They charge a per-goose fee to recoup their costs. When the agency started doing it 20 years ago, several thousand geese were killed each year. Last year, he said, about 800 were killed.

Gruver said the agents have a few options for taking care of geese. For large flocks, they usually conduct goose roundups. Geese molt and can’t fly for about six weeks from mid-May to July, so people can corral them into a pen. They are then gassed in a chamber with carbon dioxide, in accordance with American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines.

In addition, the agency employees may shoot the geese, or, if they are tame, hand feed them tranquilizers.

“We have specialists who will look at a situation and decide what’s best and safest,” he said.

The bodies of the geese are dumped in a landfill. Gruver admitted that more geese will likely return each year, though they won’t likely be the larger numbers as seen before.

According to Gruver, Wildlife Services used to catch pesky geese and release them in Eastern Washington, but they realized it was just moving the problem to another place.

Gruver said the department has had success with oiling eggs. The agents spray the goose eggs with corn oil, which prevents oxygen from getting to the developing goslings. The eggs don’t hatch but remain in the nests until after the egg-laying season is over. If the eggs were removed or destroyed, the geese would simply lay more eggs.

But many people believe the best and most effective solution is to follow the conflict prevention proposals outlined by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. The agency’s website urges an integrated approach using several techniques for keeping geese at bay. The most important approach is to ensure that nobody is feeding the geese.

In addition, other approaches include transforming lawns into something else, plant barriers at the shoreline, put up fencing or use any number of harassment and scare techniques.