The Town of North Hempstead has entered into an agreement...

The Town of North Hempstead has entered into an agreement with the USDA to euthanize flocks of geese that are damaging town parks and other properties. (May 10, 2013) Credit: Mark Bellew

The Town of North Hempstead has tried everything from dogs to noisemakers to scare off its resident invasive Canada goose population.

Now it's turning to a more permanent fix: euthanasia.

Wildlife specialists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will survey the town's parks and determine whether North Hempstead has done enough to try to rid itself of geese before resorting to euthanasia. If so, the USDA says its preferred method of euthanasia is carbon dioxide. The geese would then be processed and the meat donated to food pantries.

The process is spelled out in a contract with the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services approved unanimously by the town board last month. The town will pay the federal agency $8,602.71 for the service, plus an extra $6 per goose to cover the expense of meat processing.

Roughly 600 Canada geese have settled in the town's parks -- eating the grass and fouling waterways and fields with their droppings -- said Kevin Kelly, the town's deputy commissioner of parks and recreation.

An adult goose can produce more than a pound of feces per day, and the copious leavings have generated a host of complaints from park and ballfield users, Kelly said.

"We don't want kids playing on a field where every square foot there's droppings," Kelly said.

Elinor Molbegott, legal counsel on animal issues for the Humane Society of New York, criticized the plan, saying it is not needed and will not solve the town's goose problem.

"Taking the extraordinary measure of just killing innocent geese because people find them to be a disturbance seems to be unnecessary and cruel," Molbegott said. "As long as the habitat remains suitable and desirable for these animals, they're going to come back."

Canada geese, which are not native to this area, are territorial and often take up residence in parks with short grass and water. They have no natural predators on Long Island.

Molbegott noted that Mamaroneck in Westchester County decided last month to cancel its plans to kill geese after a public outcry.

North Hempstead has tried eradication measures against the geese, such as noise guns, dogs to chase the geese, and oiling goose eggs so they don't hatch. It has put up signs in the parks asking visitors not to feed the geese.

"Noise guns and dogs -- it treats the symptoms, but not the problem," Kelly said. "The only way you can really remove geese from your parks and fields, especially now when they're coming in epidemic proportions, is to literally remove them."

Martin Lowney, New York State director of the USDA's Wildlife Services program, said staff from his department plan to visit the town's parks beginning this month to document the goose populations and determine that the town has done everything it can to dissuade the geese from the areas.

If Lowney determines that the geese need to be removed, staff members will return during molting, which begins in mid-June, when the geese lose their flight feathers. Staffers will herd the geese into an enclosed area, transfer them to turkey crates, and bring them to a meat-processing plant, he said.

"They would be turned into food and packaged and donated to charities," Lowney said.

Lowney said the agency has been conducting an eradication program since 2009 within a seven-mile radius of Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. The operation included Hempstead Lake State Park in West Hempstead and Hendrickson Park in Valley Stream in 2010.

He said the programs have been successful in keeping the populations down.

The goose roundups attracted controversy, but Lowney said concern was lessened when it was clear the geese would be used as food.

Long Island municipalities have long struggled with goose overpopulations, but resorting to euthanasia is not a common solution. The Village of Brightwaters killed its resident geese in 2005, and three years earlier, 700 geese were culled at Belmont Lake State Park in West Babylon.

"Over the course of three years, hundreds of people came up to me, especially parents, complaining about the droppings," Kelly said. "The impetus is the concern of parents and people who use the fields for us to find a solution."

In Roslyn's Gerry Park, Wolfgang and Karen Hiller, of Glen Head, sat on a bench, overlooking the pond where nearby, about half a dozen Canada geese grazed.

For the Hillers, who describe themselves as nature-lovers, goose droppings are part of the territory and euthanasia is a step too far.

"It's just something you live with," Wolfgang Hiller said. "Some people, everything's got to be perfect for them."

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