Recipe for goose control: Some eggs and a little oil
Canada geese have survived many efforts to reduce their numbers, from gassing, egg addling and chemical sprays to lasers and goose-chasing border collies.
But the plucky water fowl finally may have met their match in an unlikely household item: cooking oil.
A group of volunteers calling themselves Geesepeace believe their method of coating goose eggs with oil is the most humane and one of the most effective.
"There's nothing else that works," said Del Demaio, a volunteer whose group has oiled between 80 and 100 eggs this spring in at least six Essex County communities.
The nonprofit Geesepeace was founded in 1999 by water resource engineer David Feld, who first tried the method in his hometown of Falls Church, Va. It has since grown to a dozen states around the nation. Essex County is the first government in New Jersey to throw its support behind egg oiling.
"It was something endorsed by the Humane Society and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals," said Tara Casella, who works in the county's environmental affairs office and was the liaison for Geesepeace.
"It was not very controversial," Casella said. " It was more humane. It doesn't sound good to people if you're going out there gassing and killing geese."
Indeed, Union County officials took a public relations hit in 2003 with a plan to exterminate 2,700 geese with carbon dioxide. The county halted the program after two days in which fewer than 1,000 birds were killed.
Other communities have tried less controversial methods, but always with the same result -- the geese just keep coming back.
Though some geese migrate to New Jersey, the populations municipalities want to control have made their permanent homes in the state's golf courses and parks.
Geese have become a problem because of the pollution their feces create in parks and in waterways and because of complaints they act aggressively toward humans.
"It's pervasive throughout the entire state," said Karen Hershey, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. There is a monthlong hunting season for Canada geese in September, and over the last two years the state has increased the bag limit from eight geese a day to 15.
Ted Nichols, a wildlife biologist with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, said geese were first introduced in New Jersey in the early 1900s and their population has expanded to an estimated 90,000.
Nichols said the geese are vulnerable when they are eggs or goslings, but a full-grown goose has few predators, aside from the bald eagle or coyote.
"Once (they) make it to adulthood, they're large, robust animals," Nichols said. "There are not many large predators capable of attacking geese."
The Geesepeace method works because the oil is absorbed into the shells and stops embryos from growing. When the geese realize the area is inhospitable for having offspring, they move on.
Essex County held volunteer training at its environmental center and sent letters to parks and golf courses offering the volunteer service.
With 11 bodies of water, West Orange has become a goose haven. But when the township began euthanizing geese two years ago, residents complained.
Now, the township is using the egg-oiling method and will only euthanize the geese as a last resort, said Amy Simon, a spokeswoman for the township.
Lou DeBell, who served as mayor of Roseland for 16 years, said he attended a Geesepeace training session after several other methods failed.
DeBell said Roseland tried coating the grass in parks with a goose-repellent substance, flying balloons that had the faces of predators on them and putting up fake owls and falcons, but none of those tactics worked. He said the Geesepeace training was educational and the method effective.
Feld said communities are becoming interested in the Geesepeace method as other means prove less effective or too distasteful.
"People are desperate, but they want to be kind to animals," Feld said. "They don't want to be cruel."
Elizabeth Moore covers West Essex. She may be reached at (973) 392-1852 or email@example.com.