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As Wisconsin's Canada goose population climbs, some lakes look for ways to reduce their numbers


Lost Lake in St. Germain is a popular summer destination for both tourists and Canada geese.

The 540-acre lake is home to about 50 geese.

“They will cover a dock in one night almost solid with feces,” says John Eckerman, the chairman of the Lost Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District.

He says there are so many geese – and so much goose poop – that a local ballpark has become unsanitary and unusable.

“The thought is that you could scare them away, but they’re out there at four and five in the morning doing this and they come right back,” he says. “So after a number of years we said, what is the next step? How do we do it? Can we reduce the population?”

Canada geese are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act because they migrate internationally.

But their population is flourishing in places with abundant goose habitat, like Wisconsin.

“Overall, the state goose population has been increasing,” says Brad Koele, a wildlife damage specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “The 2021 Waterfowl Breeding Survey indicated that there’s a little over 181,000 geese in the state. That’s 68 percent above the long-term average and that population seems to be steadily increasing.”

Because of this, the federal and state governments merged to develop a program to manage the goose population.

Koele says it first involves non-lethal methods of population control, but if those don’t work, federal wildlife officials can apply corn oil to goose eggs to prevent them from hatching.

They can also round up and kill adult geese when they’re molting and can’t fly away.

Geese return to the same nesting sites each year, so the idea is that fewer geese would return in following years.

“What typically happens is you conduct the roundup, you remove some of those geese, and then that makes those non-lethal abatement methods more effective,” Koele explains. “That makes the harassment more effective, the barriers more effective, the repellents more effective, so you don’t have that regular need to remove adult geese.”

Work is underway in the Lost Lake district to oil goose eggs.

But practices like this can be controversial. Chairman John Eckerman says there are people opposed to killing geese on Lost Lake, and some have spoken out at town board meetings.

WXPR reached out to those people, but they did not respond to a request for comment.

A similar goose-removal project at Minocqua’s Torpy Park drew protestors two years ago.

Koele says removing geese is more of a social issue than an environmental one.

“There are no environmental consequences, but probably some environmental benefits,” he says. “[Geese] can certainly obviously impact public health and safety, but also geese can impact bacteria loads at beaches, and even if bacteria loads are high enough, create things like algae blooms and stuff like that.”

He says if Wisconsin’s goose population continues to increase, he expects more lake districts to turn toward practices like these to manage the birds.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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