The Richmond goose drama began in the weeks before the plump winged birds were swooped quietly from the park. A petition was launched to save them. A lawsuit was filed against the city for lack of public input. A post titled “Geese removal” on the neighborhood networking website NextDoor had 168 replies.
For more than 40 years, geese — Canada and domestic — have made Richmond’s Byrd Park and its three lakes their kingdom. Waddling around. Opening their beaks for the white bread humans can’t stop themselves from tossing. Pooping out gluten-filled pieces over the sidewalks that park regulars run on.
Then tensions escalate. People complain, saying they can’t walk without stepping on feces. The geese now allegedly chase them.
Park goers tussle on social media, arguing back and forth on the rightful fate of the Byrd Park geese. The only consensus?
The droppings are everywhere.
Yet people don’t stop feeding them.
Signs around the lake urge them to stop, with “human food harms geese” decrying the action that results in a deformity called “angel wing” that limits a goose’s ability to fly.
But Byrd Park geese do not know how to read.
So the city removed approximately 150 domestic geese on Friday through the Carolina Waterfowl Rescue, a North Carolina-based nonprofit. The pandemic has increased park usage, a Richmond news release said, and subsequently, the harmful feeding of white bread and the droppings that follow.
The number of Canada geese, which are federally protected and remain at Byrd Park, reached up to 330 in August 2019, with the domestic geese population estimated at 200 and adult geese producing nearly 1 pound of droppings a day. Canada geese have a distinctive black head and neck. Domestic geese do not.
For as long as they’ve stationed themselves around the lake, their fate has hinged on how much of a ruckus their feces has caused.
In 1992, nearly 200 domestic geese were rounded up by the Richmond Department of Recreation and Parks due to geese being a “nuisance to many park visitors” and droppings resulting in increased algae. In 2008, Parks and Rec used border collies to control the geese and their feces around the lake.
In 2020, the city’s decision to remove the geese was propped up by a report from a self-appointed goose management task force, which is part of the Byrd Park Civil League and has since disbanded.
It, according to its report sent to neighborhood groups, spent more than a year studying the issue and offered 16 suggestions to the city on how to better manage the geese, which translated to 16 ways to halt people from feeding the birds.
According to the report, the removal cost for domestic geese is “city employee labor” while removing Canada geese would cost $1,483 plus $6 per goose annually.
The report recommended what’s nicknamed “the RID approach,” which includes focusing on reducing, over time, the geese population through adoption programs; informing the public through meetings and working with park personnel; and discouraging feeding the geese through feeding programs.
“This approach has the potential to ‘rid’ us of excessive goose droppings in the Park while enhancing the pleasure that citizens can derive from using it,” according to the report.
The adoption program, which includes geese removal and is underway, is one of the few recommendations the city has implemented.
Anne-Marie McCartan, who chaired the goose management task force and been part of the Byrd Park Civic League for 10 years, said this problem is one the city has ignored for a long time, leaving geese to scrounge for white bread for their diets.
“I don’t think there is a requirement that there be a public hearing about removing geese,” McCartan said. “But the geese weren’t actually here for the pleasure of people. The park is here for the pleasure of people and we need to think about what was good for the geese.”
The problem is compounded with the city’s lack of transparency, said Whitney Walters, who’s worked in animal welfare for 15 years and is a volunteer with the Friends of Swan Lake Domestic Geese, the organization that filed the lawsuit against Richmond and formed this month in response to the September goose removal announcement.
It is unaffiliated with the goose management task force and opposes removal of the geese.
Walters believes the city acted for the comfort of residents and not the well-being of the geese.
People from across Richmond who pay city taxes frequent the park, said Walters, yet only Byrd Park residents had a say. Walters said the city wouldn’t respond about whether there’s been a water study, if the geese were checked by a vet before being picked up and how much of the flock had angel wing.
“If the city is willing to go behind our backs and make these decisions for the public about geese, what on Earth else are they lying to us about?” Walters said.
Multiple requests for comment to the city were directed toward the two news releases — one sent on Sept. 25, the day before the first scheduled roundup that was later canceled, and an Oct. 16 release, the day the geese were officially rounded up.
The news releases state that the capturing of the domestic geese is consistent with U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife management guidelines and was approved by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.
The domestic geese will be quarantined in North Carolina at CWR’s facility and given a full vet exam. Following a medical clearance, 60 will be available for adoption in Virginia, according to a city news release. Family units of geese will also be kept together, a statement Walters is skeptical about. The loss of a mate can impact bird survival.
Andrew Goddard, a Byrd Park homeowner since 2018 whose porch looks onto the lake, said the issue surpasses geese making noise and being fed white bread and delves into animal cruelty and a lack of maintenance around the park.
“There are people out there who torment the geese and chase them,” he said. “I’ve seen kids kicking the geese, hitting them with sticks. They’ve been abused.”
He’s taken upon himself to clean the lake every morning for the past three months, where he’s seen “a tremendous number of bread bags,” used diapers, fast food waste, bottles and trash thrown into the water, which has caused an algae bloom and a rotting weed smell.
“I wouldn’t go to somebody else’s neighborhood ... and empty my ashtray out of my car onto the sidewalk,” he added. “Things like that happen all the time.”
Goddard said the only time he’s seen the city come in is on garbage days.
In the meantime, the geese that remain — now the most controversial figures of Byrd Park — continue slapping their webbed feet toward the white bread their digestive system can’t handle. As people fight for the feeding of human food to stop, geese will do what they know best: honk noisily, poop freely.
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