Federal officials have cleared the way for Madison to capture and kill up to 350 Canada geese at four city parks, although the city isn't saying when the killing will commence.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages migratory bird populations, issued a permit June 13 authorizing the controversial plan.

The city Parks Division says the approach is needed to reduce goose droppings that lead to beach closings and messy park conditions. Critics say the city hasn't aggressively pursued non-lethal means.

The federal permit allows the city to "live capture and euthanize" up to 350 geese total from Vilas, Olin-Turville, Brittingham and Goodman parks, as well as from the public-owned shoreline along Wingra Creek.

The permit also allows the city to take, "via shooting," an additional 35 Canada geese in a wetland restoration area in Cherokee Marsh near the Dane County Regional Airport.

USDA contracted

The city has contracted with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services to do the capture and euthanization, said parks spokeswoman Laura Whitmore. The work is not to exceed $4,900, she said.

A different vendor, not yet under contract, will handle the Cherokee Marsh component, she said.

Neither the Parks Division nor the mayor's office could give a date for when the geese will be removed.

Generally, geese are captured and euthanized between mid-June and mid-July, the molting period when a large number of adult geese have lost their flight feathers, said Carol Bannerman, a USDA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C.

The agency adheres to American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines on euthanasia, which emphasize minimizing pain and stress on the animal, Bannerman said. Consequently, the agency typically does not announce dates for its actions.

"Having lots of people around can be disturbing and stressful to the geese," she said.

Secrecy questioned

"You're going to round them up and kill them. I don't see how it could get any worse," said Stacy Taeuber, an attorney who served on an city advisory group that studied the geese problem at Vilas Park. "I think it's more the PR issue."

David Feld, president of GeesePeace, a Virginia nonprofit organization, said geese kills "turn people against each other" and set a bad example that "if you don't like something, you can just kill it."

The goose controversy has been ongoing for more than a year. In April of 2010, the Madison Park Commission approved a proposal from the airport to kill geese at Warner Park because of the threat to planes. The commission quickly suspended the decision after residents complained.

In its permit application this spring, the city says it has used "habitat modification, no-feeding policies, harassment with dogs and egg oiling to manage goose issues, with minimal success." In addition to public health issues, the geese cause turf damage from grazing, cost the city money in additional clean-up costs and sometimes exhibit "aggressive behavior" toward park users, the application says.

Fears overstated?

Taeuber said there's too much goose poop around and something must be done. But she objects to what she considers the city's misleading comments about public health concerns, calling them "fear mongering."

She and other critics point to a 2003 USDA report that says, "At the present time, there is no direct epidemiological evidence to link human or livestock illness to E. coli derived from waterfowl."

In response to critics, Thomas Schlenker, director of the Madison-Dane County Health Department, issued a statement saying "the same kind of pathogenic microbes identified in goose droppings that heavily contaminate Madison beaches cause 78 waterborne disease outbreaks, 4,412 illnesses, 116 hospitalizations and 5 deaths bi-annually in the US."

The bacteria identified include E. coli 0157, Schlenker said. Last summer, Olin and Vilas beaches were closed over 40 days due to dangerously high bacteria counts, he said.

"Our expectation is that by reducing the goose population, Madison beaches will stay open longer and be safer for human recreation and sport," he said.

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