Park hunt aims to drop mess created by geese
BY PAM THARP
Canadian geese at Summit Lake State Park near New Castle are so smart they know the loud noises aimed in their direction won't really hurt them.
So they're going to be surprised next month when hunters use real guns in the first-ever goose hunt at an Indiana state park.
Prolific geese are such a problem at Summit Lake, the Department of Natural Resources has scheduled three flock reduction hunts there in September, December and January.
Bob Felix, property manager for the Brookville Lake/Whitewater Memorial State Park complex, will watch those hunts because he has a goose problem at Whitewater.
Two-thirds of Indiana's parks have too many geese and the waste they leave on beaches and picnic areas is a health hazard as well as being esthetically unpleasant, managers said.
"Summit Lake has a nice place to have a hunt," Felix said. "I think the state will do one and see how it goes there before they try it at other parks."
Hueston Woods State Park assistant property manager Pat Boryca hopes the hunt helps Summit Lake, but he said geese have been difficult to shoot at Hueston Woods, where a dozen blinds are allowed on the lake during the two fall goose seasons.
"I think they read the hunter's manual and leave when the season starts. Hunters don't get a lot of them. Geese are a problem in lots of Ohio parks," Boryca said.
Canadian geese are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and their numbers have skyrocketed across the entire Mississippi flyway in the past few years, according to the DNR. Population counts are at 1.5 million and growing at 6 percent a year. Geese are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's biggest success story, Boryca said.
Summit Lake always had geese because it's located on a major flight path, property manager Larry Ahlersmeyer said. In the last 15 to 20 years, a subspecies has evolved that doesn't migrate, so they stay in the park and reproduce, he said.
Ahlersmeyer estimates there are 2,500 to 3,000 geese at Summit Lake, so many that when they take off to fly they create a shadow on the ground.
"They can sit on the ice in the winter. They eat farmers' grain. We've created a "supergoose" habitat for them. Geese love to live where there is water and where it's mowed down to the shoreline because they can see any predators," Ahlersmeyer said.
The geese also know there are no bobcats, wolves and few birds of prey, so some hide nests in Summit Lake's 100 acres of tall prairie grass. Park employees can't oil or addle their eggs because they can't find them, Ahlersmeyer said. The park has tried several non-lethal methods -- noisemakers and non-palatable chemicals on the grass -- but they haven't helped, he said.
Whitewater seemed to have fewer geese this year because park employees circled the lake this spring and oiled or addled the eggs they found, Felix said. Destroying the eggs won't work because the goose just lays more, Felix said. A goose will continue to sit on a nest of addled eggs, but the eggs don't hatch.
Summit Lake's first reduction hunt will be Sept. 6, 11 and 13, when 40 to 60 hunters will hunt in 10 assigned areas of the park. The northern two-thirds of the park will be closed to the public on those days.
While some people object to hunting in state parks, managers say geese are a renewable resource. The geese at Summit Lake have a three-foot-high browse line where they've eaten away all the growth, a situation no one could have imagined, Ahlersmeyer said.
"When we get an overpopulation, just like the deer herd, we need to do something about it," Felix said.
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