Denver residents torn on geese roundups

The culling of goose populations in Denver parks has stirred up controversy


Tension between animal-rights defenders and the City of Denver rose to a crescendo following pre-dawn roundups of Canada geese at City Park and Washington Park in early July. The Canada geese population in city parks with lakes or ponds has long been a point of contention between park users who consider them a nuisance, largely because of their droppings on sidewalks, and those who defend their presence.

The geese are in their annual molting period, when they lose their flight feathers for about six weeks. This allows authorities, using small water craft, to herd them from the water where they seek refuge at night, directing them into a holding pen on the bank. From there, they were placed in crates and taken to an undisclosed meat processing plant, where the waterfowl will be processed for either community food pantries or donated to animal rescue organizations, according to a news release issued by the city.

“I’m saddened by the heartless, sadistic actions taken by those in power,” said Malerie Bleich, a resident of Stapleton who uses both parks. “For officials to secretly, under the cover of darkness, cause such unspeakable and irreparable harm to these beautiful geese and their precious families is nothing short of manipulative abuse of their office.”

Bleich attended a protest rally at Washington Park on July 6, organized by a grassroots organization dubbing itself Canada Geese Protection Denver.

But Walt Heidenfelder, a Washington Park resident, supports the city’s decision to cull the flocks.

“Many of us who live near Washington Park enjoy the many visitors who share the park, especially families with kids and expectant moms getting their exercise. Unfortunately all of us have been betrayed by a band of visitors with no respect for the park,” he wrote in an email. “By the thousands they’ve come to eat the grass, poop, pollute the water and drive out song birds and other small food competitors. Every day they add a thousand pounds of excrement to an ever-increasing cesspool of droppings.”

Carole Woodall, led the rally and called for the resignation of top Denver Parks and Recreation officials who authorized the culling, “Without public announcement – that is a point of outrage. Ostensibly when we were asleep.” She also expressed a sentiment that this controversy is: “a question of whose park this is.”

Scott Gilmore, deputy director of Denver Parks, issued a news release explaining his office’s decision. It states that Denver Parks has been wrestling with controlling the number of Canada geese, estimated at 5,000 resident geese, for 15 years. During migration seasons, this number can quadruple. His office frequently receives complaints from park users about the excrement littering grounds— to the extent that it has discouraged some people from using these parks.

Justin Marceau, a University of Denver law school professor and Washington Park resident, addressed the rally as well. He urged the city to hold public forums before making decisions like culling geese.

The decision to conduct the roundup allegedly without due notice to Denver residents was a major theme throughout the discourse at the protest.

The parks will also continue to be a destination for geese populations, and many residents wondered what would happen the next time parks are overrun by geese. There was concern that the city would continue to cull geese.

“Harming defenseless animals saddens me; it changed the flavor of the park,” said Lisa Kassoff, a Washington Park resident who attended the protest. “It’s people who scare me, not the geese.”

At a meeting for the East Washington Park Neighborhood Association on July 9, District 6 Councilman Paul Kashmann assured neighbors and about 12 members of Canada Goose Protection Denver that the city was finished culling this year, and said it was unlikely the city would carry out culling going forward. He acknowledged that a small roundup was deployed earlier that day at Garfield Park in southwest Denver.

“We have not done a good job of managing the flocks,” Kashmann said at the meeting.

But the news release from the parks and recreation department summarized its efforts to manage the flocks without employing lethal methods, which were considered the last alternative. It cites 15 years of various tactics, including hazing, egg oiling to prevent hatchings and environmental changes to the banks of the lakes and ponds. Urban parks play a vital role in supporting the physical and environmental health of the city and its residents, according to the release.

“The parks were built for the people,” Gilmore said. “They weren’t built for Canada geese.”

Hannah Vanderhorst, West Washington Park resident, said she understood that the action was taken to help balance out the ecosystem in parks.

“Just as deer hunting is a necessity, this aligns similarly. I would hope that the geese are euthanized in a humane manner that allows their meat to be processed in a way that is healthy for consumption for our vulnerable members of society,” she wrote in an email. “I think this is a creative approach to several issues in the Denver community and should be looked at with a broad lens.”


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