Gardening and Grazing Geese

One freezing cold winter day in 1959, my parents packed us children and a picnic lunch and drove nearly four hours to Gaddy’s Goose

Pond in North Carolina. Mr. Lockhart Gaddy had first attracted migrating Canada geese to his pond for hunting, but in the 1930s he

turned his property into a refuge for these traveling birds. We made the pilgrimage to see 15,000 geese, birds we had never seen

before. At that time, there were nearly 200,000 migrating geese in North Carolina and 10,000 year-round residents; those figures

have now flipped.

South Carolina ponds and lakes have also experienced explosive increases in resident Canada geese populations – birds that never

leave the urban, suburban, and rural water sources they so enjoy. Sadly, the public’s ability to enjoy these outdoor sites declines

as goose numbers rise. A mature goose produces nearly 2 pounds of fecal material a day, and that semi-solid excrement is much

higher in bacteria than even human waste. Former swimming areas have been closed because of contamination and our ability to enjoy

golfing, picnicking, or outdoor games is ruined by piles of this unpleasant and unhealthy manure.

Canada geese graze turf grass to levels well below the recommended mowing heights, leaving areas prone to erosion. When rains come,

there is not enough vegetation to stop the movement of fecal matter and soil particles, both of which end up in the nearby pond or

lake. In some cases, the nutrient load of that material is excessive, resulting in algal blooms followed by plummeting dissolved

oxygen levels. In addition to the infamous Gardia, which results in “beaver fever,” other goose fecal bacteria are the causal

agents of such bird diseases as duck plague and avian cholera.

Our penchant for large, maintained mowed areas surrounding bodies of water has created much of our current problem. Geese want to

see what’s between the safety of their water source and the grasses or plants upon which they feed. Vegetative buffers, with plants

2 feet high extending 10 feet back from the water’s edge, make geese very unhappy. Although they have no fear of humans, they do

fear the unknown, and are loathe to walk through taller plant growth. As an added benefit, when heavy rains come, the roots of

those plants help keep the shoreline intact, and as stormwater runoff flows off mowed, grazed, or planted areas, dissolved

nutrients and soil particles are captured, allowing any pollutants to seep into the soil with its cleaning flora of microorganisms.

Different bodies of water require different “shorescaping” designs. If you want to fish, you won’t want a zillion trees planted

near the water. Some people simply let whatever is present grow up and get mowed once or twice a year while others choose to

establish native plants as a buffer. Stormwater basins have their own set of requirements, including keeping conduits open and free

flowing.