On Monday, July 15, Mayor Michael Hancock will be inaugurated for a third term after one of the nastiest elections in decades; five new members of Denver City Council will also be sworn in, thanks to the electorate's frustrated rejection of three prominent incumbents, including Albus Brooks, widely seen as Hancock's mayoral heir apparent.
So what is the city obsessed with right now? Geese.
Yes, geese — specifically the decision by the folks at Denver Parks and Recreation, in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture, to deal with an overpopulation of Canadian geese in city parks (and the abundance of feces they produce) by reducing the flock and donating the meat to the needy.
The angry response in some quarters to the culling, including a rally against goose-slaying at Washington Park this past weekend, has been prototypically Denver.
Given the Mile High City's love of a good hamburger, a strong reaction to the idea of turning animals into food might seem contradictory. But urbanites like us don't spend our free time feeding breadcrumbs to cows while sitting on benches at the water's edge in public gathering places. And given our collective love of cute creatures (Denver's biggest stars were once a pair of polar bears named Klondike and Snow), the negative response doesn't exactly come out of the blue.
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Still, the size and scope of the backlash (and the backlash to the backlash) has been surprising to many, including lame-duck council reps and those members who will continue to serve. A staffer for at-large member Robin Kniech reports an unexpectedly large flow of emails and phone calls, roughly split between support for and horror over the city's approach. And when she's asked about the subject, a staffer for District 2's Kevin Flynn emits a comic groan that speaks volumes.
Flynn says that he's personally received 23 emails and around a dozen phone calls, most in opposition to The Hunger Games: Denver Goose Edition. The campaign was clearly organized, he notes, as evidenced by identical text or messaging in some of the outreach. During his initial four-year term (he was re-elected in May), Flynn calculates that his office has been targeted by about twelve organized efforts, with geese landing on the low end of the action. While he didn't keep a record of the issues that generated the greatest number of emails, he says that some produced hundreds.
Councilmembers didn't vote on the project, but Flynn supported the culling operation, which he says became necessary after the prolonged failure of non-lethal methods of flock reduction, including egg oiling, hazing (using visual or aural means to scare away the geese by way of devices such as the giant Goosinator) and changes in habitat (like planting reeds or long grasses along the shorelines of lakes so that geese can't see the water).
"It's not the geese that are the problem, it's the overpopulation," Flynn stresses. He points out that "Mother Nature does the management" in natural areas that are home to coyotes and other predators largely absent from city parks. For instance, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge has an estimated ten pairs of nesting, resident geese, while the infinitely smaller Harvey Park, which is in Flynn's district and wasn't culled, boasts twenty.
At first blush, Denver's preoccupation with geese can be seen as a good thing, since it suggests that nothing more pressing is going on. But that's demonstrably false; there are a great many issues that should concern all of us.
Take, for example, Denver's crime rate. A June report from the Brennan Center for Justice looked at violent crime in the thirty largest U.S. cities, and Denver saw the largest rise of them all from 2017 to 2018 — a 9.1 percent upswing during a period when a clear majority actually saw a decrease in such offenses.
Murders are a case in point. According to the Denver Police Department crime map, 32 killings took place between January 1 and July 8 of this year. While that sum matches the total over the same span in 2018, back in 2014 only thirteen murders happened in Denver during the same period. That's a 246 percent jump in just five years.
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Then there's the ongoing rise of homelessness in Denver. When criticized during the campaign regarding the many people struggling to survive without regular shelter, Mayor Hancock simultaneously defended the controversial urban camping ban and promised to redouble his efforts to solve the problem. The advocacy organization Denver Homeless Out Loud is promising to hold him accountable on this score with what it has dubbed "100 Days of Action" — the theme of a protest scheduled for 8:30 a.m. at Civic Center Park on July 15, ninety minutes before Hancock's swearing-in ceremony.
Other pressing Denver matters include affordable housing (one-bedroom rent rose 79 percent in under a decade), feverish development and its ripple effects (one study showed Denver leading the nation in Hispanic displacement from gentrification) and traffic that seems to be getting worse and worse.
Although Flynn has been hearing more about geese than these other concerns this month, he doesn't express frustration over the scenario. Indeed, he emphasizes his respect and gratitude for people taking the time to share their opinions with him. Now that the USDA has reached its so-called depredation limit by reducing the number of geese in Denver by 2,000, and has therefore ended its roundup, Flynn says he hopes that the non-lethal practices that previously fell short will prevent this city's feathered population from getting out of control again.
If he's right, maybe Denver residents can get back to talking about something other than fucking geese.