As It Happens

New Jersey town stops gassing Canada geese, opts for non-lethal control methods

After years of rounding up and euthanizing Canada geese in Edgewater, N.J., Mayor Michael McPartland explains why he's decided to stop the program — and try non-lethal methods of controlling the bird population instead.
(Danny Johnston/Associated Press)

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They hiss, travel in packs and treat the world like a giant toilet. You could say the Canada goose is the least popular export south of the border.

In the town of Edgewater, N.J., officials have been euthanizing the birds for years to control the population. But this week, the town changed its approach. Officials announced they will stop using lethal methods on Canadian geese.
Edgewater, N.J., Mayor Michael McPartland. (Michael McPartland)

Michael McPartland, the mayor of Edgewater, spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

Helen Mann: Mayor McPartland, why have you had this change of heart when it comes to euthanizing Canadian geese in your town?

Michael McPartland: It was just a matter of common sense. Over the past couple of years the number of birds that we have captured has gone down significantly. We started the program around 2010 and that year we collected about 100 birds — the next year it was 75, down to 50, down to 25. By chance last year, we only collected seven birds. So we thought it would be prudent to give the non-lethal method a shot.

HM: Who is doing the capturing?

MM: It's the United States Department of Agriculture. It's a USDA program.
Canada geese goslings forage on the grass. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

HM: Not to be too gruesome about it, but how do they euthanize them?

MM: I've never been there when they've actually done it. But I've seen videos of it. What they do is they come down early morning, before sunrise, and they herd the birds at a time of year when they are moulting, and they can't fly. They capture them with nets, herd them into a net, basically put them into the back of a truck and they take the tailpipe, stick it in the back of the truck, and the bird falls asleep. That's how they do their euthanizing. It's the most humane way, apparently, to do it. Then they do take the meat from the animals and they use them in zoos.

HM: Now what kind of problems were the birds posing in the community before this began?

MM: We're along the Hudson River. We're just about a mile south of the George Washington Bridge, looking over the Manhattan skyline. There was an older field that over the years, it was always a little soggy down there. After a good hard rain it gets really soupy and then the birds come up from the river.

Years ago, they used to migrate, but now the birds have gotten real comfortable. You know, people feed them. I don't want to say they're lazy birds but they are, it seems. They just get used to living in an area, especially when there's a lot of food and no predators for them. They were staying and the field was getting so inundated with bird poop that there was concerned parents that came to council meetings.

They tried some non-lethal methods to no avail. What happened is the birds aren't stupid. They get used to the type of non-lethal methods that were tried. It didn't work. I'm exploring the idea of buying our own dog, housing him down at the field. This way the dog is there full time and the birds will be scared all day.

Canada Geese rely on wetlands in Brighton as a rest area during migration. (Don Ryan/Associated Press)

HM: In addition to that, you mention being along the Hudson — are you in a flight path area?

MM: Yes. Captain Sully's plane actually landed right out in front of Edgewater.

HM: And it was hit by geese, right?

MM: By geese, yes. On takeoff, he was coming out of LaGuardia and he had goose strikes that brought that plane down. The animal rights activists that came to our meetings, I can appreciate their passion, but they got a little out of hand. It was embarrassing to the town and they tried to embarrass the town's people and portray us as evil people.

HM: What did they do?

MM: They were very polite at the meetings but once they went outside and did some protesting ... you know, there were mockups on the internet — a picture of me with a Hitler moustache on and a reference to "Auschwater" rather than Edgewater. That was really rude and out of line.

(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

HM: Did most of the community back the effort to get rid of the birds?

MM: They all did. These animal activists came from other areas. The townspeople, which we are good, compassionate people, just recognized a problem and this was their answer to the problem. I think what happened, animal rights activists, because we're in such a unique location, thought they would get some notoriety from publicizing Edgewater being one of 70 towns across New Jersey that use this program. And when they came down it kind of backfired on them because we only euthanized seven birds last year and now we're going to a non-lethal method anyhow.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Michael McPartland.