Activists want Denver to straighten up and fly right, and two billboards erected on January 18 by In Defense of Animals and Canada Geese Protection Colorado are designed to remind residents to protect the city’s geese.
The billboard campaign, which runs through January 21, is the latest action that animal-rights activists have taken since the summer of 2019, when Denver Parks and Recreation introduced a goose-culling program as part of a multi-strategy approach to reduce residential goose populations and preserve healthy park habitats.
Located on the southeast corner of South Colorado Boulevard and Mexico Avenue, the billboards bear these messages: “Dear USDA, Stop Killing Our Wildlife” and “Lake Watch, Protect Our Geese.” The first refers to the U.S. Department of Agriculture permits that allow for the culling of wildlife, and the second encourages residents to become involved with Lake Watch, a citizen-science effort to understand urban-lake ecosystems led by Canada Geese Protection Colorado.
Denver Parks & Recreation initiated the goose-culling program after other population-control measures came up short. In total, 2,179 geese were culled from Washington Park, City Park, Sloan’s Lake, Garfield Park, Harvey Park and Garland Lake, according to the Parks & Recreation website. The department has committed to not culling any geese in 2021, but activists aren't letting up.
“We want people to have more information about a topic that is really complicated,” says Carole Woodall, a spokesperson for Canada Geese Protection Colorado, which formed in 2019 in response to the culling and is dedicated to not only protecting wild geese, but any wild bird within range.
In November, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the USDA over redacted information in the 2019 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contract with a big game and poultry processing plant near Fort Collins; the USDA did not disclose the number of geese authorized to be processed nor how much the agency paid per bird.
According to Scott Gilmore, deputy manager of Denver Parks and Recreation, the department has a three-year contract with USDA Wildlife Services to use several strategies to reduce Denver’s goose population, which includes culling as well as egg oiling (to prevent them from hatching) and surveys to determine how many geese the city's parks can sustain. In 2019, the contract allocated $150,000 for the work; the budget is re-examined each year.
For Gilmore, the decision to use culling was one of the hardest he's had to make on the job. “It was a biology issue for me,” he says, explaining that too many of one species throws an entire ecosystem out of balance, and other species cannot thrive. And goose poop — a single goose produces one pound every day — builds up and pollutes waterways, he adds.
But Woodall and her fellow activists would like to see wildlife management refocused to prioritize animal well-being; that's why they started Lake Watch. “We’re providing a space for the community at large to think of lakes as ecosystems as opposed to parks,” she explains, adding that manicured parks that exist for the sole purpose of human recreation should be a thing of the past.
Parks & Recreation is looking at lakes, too; for years, it's been planting native grasses such as bull reeds and willows around the edges. “They discourage geese and are great for prairie nesting birds — all kinds of water birds — and they improve the water quality,” Gilmore says.
Over the past two years, Gilmore has learned to be a liaison with bird activists and others concerned with parks policy. Denver Parks and Recreation has started several initiatives that invite volunteers to become a part of park maintenance, helping to plant native grasses as well as egg oiling and moving cut-out coyote figures that are used to scare geese away.
"We’re trying to give them ways to support and work with us to manage the population," Gilmore says. “Having different opinions doesn’t mean we can’t find common ground."
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