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The round up. Photo: George Earl
The round up. Photo: George Earl

Kids help as DEC tracks "resident" geese

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New York state bands hundreds of geese throughout the region this time of year. Scientists want to know if their populations are growing, and where they're growing to.

It's a catch and release operation, and the public is often recruited to lend a hand. The geese, many still in the gosling stage, are herded into pens, then singled out for banding.

Ring-sized metal bracelets are gently clinched around a leg of each goose.
Many already have bands from previous trappings. They provide data that help biologists track their numbers, range, and breeding habits. George Earl was on hand for a round-up in Saranac Lake.

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On a recent sunny afternoon about a dozen young children helped a group of wildlife biologists round up and tag a flock of Canada geese in Saranac Lake.

The kids were helping researchers from the State Department of Environmental Conservation track the population growth of a resident flock of geese.

The birds are relatively easy to catch this time of year because they are molting and unable to fly.

John O’Connor is a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation who’s been tracking the population of geese in Saranac Lake since 2007.

O’Connor said the resident flock has been growing quickly. “They’re probably all throughout the Saranac Chain of Lakes,” O’Conner said. “The population just keeps spreading out.”

He said the annual census helps DEC understand the habits and population growth of the resident flock. They’re called resident geese because they breed locally, rather than in Quebec, and stick around settled areas longer.

Mark Carrara is a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He said the resident geese are better adapted to settled environments.

“Nonmigratory birds have lived their whole lives close to people,” Carrara said. “Where as migratory birds have probably been raised up in Quebec somewhere, so they’re not as tolerant of people.”

During the Saranac Lake goose roundup last week, DEC wildlife staff managed to corral about 50 geese into a small pen. The roundup took place on a grassy area at the shore of Lake Flower.

The group of kids, ranging in age from three to ten, gathered around the pen to get a close-up look at the birds.

The biologists banded and released each bird with the help of several children. A four-year-old named Wyatt was among those who helped return the geese to the water.

As popular as the geese are among these kids, for many, geese have become the bane of local communities. Especially lakeside communities like Saranac Lake.

The problem is that the birds produce a large amount of feces.

Saranac Lake school district officials say that’s a health concern. Their athletic fields have become messy with goose dung.

Saranac Lake central considered hiring federal wildlife biologists to round up the birds and euthanize them. But these geese seem to have good instincts, because the flock hasn’t been spotted on school property for weeks.

Some community members and the state Humane Society also complained that killing the geese would set a bad example for students.

Now that the molting season's almost over, school officials have decided to shelve the controversial plan.

So for the time being, DEC biologists say Saranac Lake’s goose population will continue to soar.

That’s good news for kids like Wyatt, who look forward to helping band and release the birds again next year.

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