Environmental Almanac

Urbana Park District: Balancing Needs of People and Wildlife


One sure sign that winter won’t last forever is the spectacle of geese high overhead, flying north. They’re common, I know, but it still brightens my day when I walk out and hear them, and have the opportunity to watch their loose v’s form and re-form. These high-flying geese migrate as their forebears have done for millennia.

Would that we could enjoy all geese from a distance.

Other geese are active now, too, our “resident” Canada geese. You can usually tell resident from migratory geese because they fly much lower as they commute from resting areas to feeding spots around town. It’s resident geese I’m thinking about today.

If you could ask a flock of resident Canada geese for their thoughts on an ideal landscape, here’s what they would probably tell you. “Start with a water feature, preferably a pond, and to make it really perfect, put an island in the middle. Surround that pond with level ground that slopes gently to the water’s edge, and plant that area in a monoculture of turf grass. We like to eat that, and it also allows us to move about freely and see any would-be predators before they can sneak up on us.”

If you were to explain to these geese that such a landscape supports very little other native wildlife, they would not care. They’re geese. If you were to point out that the prodigious quantities of poop they produce make that landscape unpleasant or even unusable for people, they would not care. They’re geese. If you were to ask these geese not to multiply so effectively, they’d say, “It’s the business of geese to make more geese. We geese do not think in terms of ecosystems, and we couldn’t care less about human needs.”

You may recognize the landscape described by our geese around town—at subdivision detention ponds, golf courses and corporate parks, as well as sites under the management of local park districts. These sites were not created for the purpose of supporting a Canada goose population explosion, but they have made it possible.

That population explosion has put people who manage such places in a pickle. Take Crystal Lake Park in Urbana, for example. The goose poop there now renders much of the park unpleasant for a walk and unusable for children to play or families to picnic. Even my friends who are hardcore birders complain.
Urbana Park District personnel—who do think in terms of ecosystems, and who care very much about the needs of people for outdoor recreation—have run through the gamut of creative devices intended to deter geese without making any significant headway.

Over the long term, they plan to make landscape changes that will increase biodiversity and promote a more natural aesthetic, which will at the same time reduce the amount of ideal goose habitat. But in the near term, they also plan to make the park more usable for people again by more active management of the goose population. That means interfering with goose nests and eggs to limit reproduction. And they want the public to understand what they’re doing and why from the start.

Toward that end, the Urbana Park District will conduct a public meeting regarding Canada geese on Wednesday March 4, from 5:30-6:30pm at the Anita Purves Nature Center in Urbana. The meeting will cover the life history of the Canada goose, goose impacts on Crystal Lake Park, a history of management efforts, and recommendations from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.