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Funding boost may lead to Parksville geese cull

Feb 23 2012

NANAIMO — A group of retired biologists and other scientists, alarmed about destruction they believe is being wrought by Canada geese on local estuary habitat, is in the process of securing a major bump in funding.

The Guardians of Mid-Island Estuaries made a presentation to Parksville city council on Monday and asked for $25,000 in funding over a three-year period, up from their old allotment of $3,000. The group also has an agreement in principle with the Regional District of Nanaimo for funding of $30,000 over three years after presenting to them last month.

President John Cooper said the money would allow them to increase research into vegetation degradation in preparation for making a case for a cull and expansion of egg addling, which is the process of stopping the development of an egg.

No permits have been granted by Environment Canada for any further population control measures and permits won't be granted until the group proves geese are the problem.

"They're eroding the vegetation . . . which is critical habitat for many species, especially juvenile salmonids, fry and smolts coming down the rivers that are losing that food source," said Cooper, an ornithologist and wildlife biologist. "The Englishman [River] is being eroded into a bit of a moonscape situation, just gravel and sand and not very productive habitat."

Canada geese used to be migratory on the B.C. coast but were introduced as resident birds in the late 1970s by wildlife managers and sportsmen's groups, Cooper said, adding that "it seemed like a good idea at the time."

Now, they're foraging on the estuaries 12 months a year.

"The amount of use the geese have on these estuaries now is way more than the estuaries can handle," he said. "We're being left with gravel and sand and silt."

Cooper pointed out that the City of Parksville spends tens of thousands of dollars a year removing Canada goose manure from its parks, essentially vacuuming it up, and also employs dogs and a falconer to move the birds around as needed.

Parksville Mayor Chris Burger supports the group's efforts, suggesting a cull could be coming.

"We're still in the process of making the case, but it is a serious issue that we're facing," Burger said.

"The overall health of the [Englishman] River is being threatened, so we have to probably take stronger steps now to help control that population."

Two recently published research papers by Island scientists suggested the Little Qualicum River habitat had been dramatically altered by the geese.

Burger said the concern is that if drastic steps aren't taken soon to preserve the estuary, the damage will be irreparable.

Jim Plateras, manager of parks operations for the City of Nanaimo, said staff members participate in egg addling in the springtime to help control the goose numbers within the city, but that it's not doing much relative to the overall population.

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