Hands off my resident goose pal Zoey and her family
Resident Canada geese will soon have more to worry about than urban coyotes, unrelenting hunters or anglers who leave fishing line behind. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a massive edict that largely recommends slaughtering up to 800,000 nonmigratory geese and goslings annually over the next 10 years.
Well no one's getting my Zoey, I promise you that - nor Dad, her mate, or the goslings, Horatio, Cinnamon and Zack, an extended family of resident geese in the Birmingham area whose habits I've been researching for three years. We've been on many journeys, Zo and I, traipsing through nearby woods or sitting near the lake just
watching the world go by.
I met Zo as I was jogging at a city park and within months was drawn into her world. When the park got too crowded, the family would head for a nearby cemetery. The tombstones were their refuge; the geese themselves had become my solace from a
wild and desperate world. No iPods, no video games, no cell phones, no laptops - just simple pleasures like solitude and silence.
Now it's the Fish and Wildlife Service that I worry about.
Federal officials want to relinquish their authority over resident geese to the states. What that really means is that geese along three major flyways, including the Mississippi flyway, where Alabama is located, can be slaughtered without a federal permit - and its cumbersome red tape.
Slaughters aren't pretty. Residents in Olney, Md., watched in tears as resident geese that had lived at a community pond for up to 10 years were rounded up and gassed, and you can imagine how I would feel if someone dressed in fatigues and wielding a shotgun came gunning for Zo. She may not be a pet in the usual sense, but she's as much a part of my life as my Oriental short-haired cat, Ziggy.
What we can do in central Alabama is to learn to manage our resident geese populations before their growth gets out of hand. Here's what I propose: That the study of resident geese be incorporated into every school curriculum in Alabama. Studies - and my own experience - indicate that bonding with nature relieves
loneliness and depression in children, and geese are among the best stress-relievers of all time. So human themselves, geese make you laugh - and they entice children into a healthier lifestyle by getting them away from computers and video games and into the outdoors.
I'm barraged with questions about Zo. "Do you know when she'll be back?" asks a child. "Is Echo here?" inquires another of a favorite migrating goose who shows up every winter. Educators and parents could use the geese in their communities as a teaching tool, incorporating science, government and psychology projects into the
mix - as well as field trips, picnics and study groups.
Get to know the geese in your community. Put a human face on their existence.
Film them. Photograph them. Draw them. Sketch them.
Document their comings and goings. Watch a gosling grow up.
An elementary school could manage a small community of geese as a national science project.
Teenagers could study ways in which geese relieve stress and anxiety in their peers.
High school students could compare the habits of juveniles - the "teenagers" of the goose kingdom - to their own.
English classes could compare the inherent qualities of geese to humans.
A middle- or high-school class could turn a nearby pond into a goose sanctuary as a national model, taking responsibility for cleanup and educational tours.
By acting now, we can formulate plans that influence local, state and national politics and insist on the humane treatment of these gentle, inquisitive birds. The fear is that slaughters will become rampant next summer when geese are molting and can't escape. I'll gladly e-mail schools, principals, teachers and students information on getting to know the geese in your community and a list of projects.
It's time to reawaken our concerns for wildlife, using geese to instill in the next generation respect for the environment and kindness and compassion for all creatures. At the same time, we should allow geese to use their therapeutic powers of humor and good will to help our children better cope with stress.
Mary Lou Simms writes for Cat Fancy magazine and other publications but is primarily researching the habits of resident Canada geese. For her continued protection, Zoey's specific location remains undisclosed.