Mamaroneck plans to have geese killed despite animal advocates' outcry

Barry Casterella, general foreman of the Village of Barry Casterella, general foreman of the Village of Mamaroneck Parks Department, encounters a Canada goose at Columbus Park in Mamaroneck. (Feb. 21, 2013) Photo Credit: Xavier Mascarenas

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The geese population is so out of control in Mamaroneck that the birds have become part of a recreational water pollution problem, which the village plans to address by rounding up some of the geese and having them killed, local officials said Thursday.

The culling will take place in late June or July, when geese molt and shed their feathers so they cannot fly and are easy to round up and truck away for euthanization. The process will be handled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the only agency authorized to carry out such measures.

"If I have to choose between the health, safety and welfare of children and adults and geese, I will unequivocally choose in favor of the children and adults," said Mayor Norm Rosenblum.

Rosenblum said the goose roundup will be carried out under an agreement the village signed with the USDA last fall.

In warm-weather months, the geese and their abundant droppings fill two of Mamaroneck's most popular green spaces: Columbus Park and the three softball fields in Harbor Island. Kids are "rolling around in it" during their softball and soccer matches, Rosenblum said. The problem is so disgusting police officers on patrol in the area keep one pair of shoes for work and another pair to wear home, he said.

Harbor Island faces a geese-related issue at its beach as well. According to village manager Richard Slingerland, the federal Environmental Protection Agency cited Mamaroneck in March 2011 for a higher-than-normal count of fecal coliform -- a bacterium derived from human and animal waste -- in the water off the beach.

"We got the violation for bacteria problems, which affect people who swim," Slingerland said. "It's not a problem for drinking water. It's more recreational."

Although the village is investigating its sewer lines in connection with the EPA citation, reducing "goose and dog waste is of considerable concern," Slingerland said.

The village is employing other measures. Some park areas have been planted with tall grasses that geese avoid for fear of encountering hiding predators. A brand-new, $29,000 Rake-O-Vac -- an oversized, motorized unit that the mayor describes as a goose pooper-scooper -- soon will be put to work clearing dropping-covered areas.

Earlier efforts to control the flocks have failed. Those ranged from chasing the birds to projecting loud, whistling sounds at them. After a while, the crazy noises have no effect. "They don't even move anymore," said Barry Casterella, the general foreman of Mamaroneck's Parks Department.

It doesn't help that residents feed the birds, he said. The effect of feeding was obvious when a plump goose strolled up to Casterella in search of a handout while he gave Newsday a tour of Columbus Park.

Officials say they have no idea how many geese need to be eliminated. Assessing the problem will begin in a month or two with the arrival of the USDA, they said.

The first step involves finding goose nests and coating the eggs with a thin layer of 100 percent corn oil to stop the eggs from developing and hatching, said USDA spokeswoman Carol Bannerman. Later, decisions will be made on how many geese to round up in Mamaroneck, she said.

Mamaroneck is currently the only municipality in the region planning a culling, Bannerman added. Scarsdale recently scrapped plans for a similar move in the face of public opposition.

Bannerman said the USDA encourages egg oiling and other non-lethal measures to limit geese population growth. As a last resort, 20,000 are euthanized annually by the federal government, a relatively small number compared to those killed by hunters, such as the 63,000 geese harvested during just the single month of September 2009, she added.

Geese advocate Kiley Blackman was heartbroken to learn of the latest news. Barely 24 hours earlier, she and five other animal advocates had set up a private meeting with Westchester County officials in hopes of discouraging future cullings. The animal advocates were galvanized last summer, when the county approved the roundup and killing of 500 geese that later were turned into burger meat and distributed to the homeless.

Blackman, a resident of Tuckahoe, said she regrets speaking highly of Mamaroneck's efforts to clean up geese droppings.

"We had been citing Mamaroneck as the gold standard," Blackman said.

Given the news from Mamaroneck, Blackman said she and dozens of others -- who have banded together as an informal network known as Westchester 4 Geese -- plan to take action.

"Our advocacy group doesn't want the killing ... we want to try and stop it," she said. "This is not a choice between children and geese. It's a matter of human decency in working together for the good of all, including our geese and their babies."

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