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The Geese Police

mummummum
April 6th, 2007, 09:32 PM
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/06/nyregion/06geese.html

By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
Published: April 6, 2007
For anyone who believes geese are unobjectionable, think again. Here are some things the city’s parks department would like you to know: Geese are voracious eaters and can ruin acres of manicured lawns. They chase away ducks. Adult geese produce nearly one pound of droppings each day.

So under a light snow yesterday morning, the humble Canada goose was elevated to the city’s pantheon of scourges, alongside such stalwarts as pigeons, roaches and rats.

There was no proclamation, no recoil from a hunter’s rifle, just three aggressive border collies in Central Park, primed to corral — though not to harm — any goose caught resting unaware on the park’s Kentucky bluegrass, which apparently tastes as good to geese as it looks to humans.

Before it dawned on them that they were to be the prey yesterday during a demonstration of the dogs’ skills, a pair of affectionate geese soared majestically above Harlem Meer, the lake at the north end of the park. Other geese paddled placidly in the chilly water.

But when the dogs — in this case, two black-and-white collies named Dehl (pronounced DEAL) and Coal — were led by handlers to a cove where the mating birds had stopped to rest, the geese immediately flew off. They circled overhead, honking in protest. A few minutes later, the geese in the Meer were scared off by the sight of a collie in a kayak that had been paddled out to the middle of the lake.

“These dogs are highly trained herders,” said Donald Marcks, their owner. “Any dog could chase geese around the park and the geese would be scared — more because the dogs would be a nuisance than anything else.”

But Mr. Marcks said that unlike other dogs, his collies would never harm the geese. In any case, the collies are kept under tight control by their human handlers.

Mr. Marcks, who wore blue jeans, brown cowboy boots and a black cowboy hat that crowned a head of long blond-gray hair, resembled an aging rock star turned gentleman rancher. His handlebar mustache and goatee were perfectly trimmed.

“All we’re doing is playing with several thousand years of predator-prey interaction,” he said, looking into a row of television cameras.

Last week, before the Central Park Conservancy brought in Mr. Marcks and his company, Geese Police Inc., to rid the park of geese, 300 of the birds had made the park their home, a tenfold increase during the past three or four years, said Douglas Blonsky, president of the conservancy, a nonprofit organization that manages the park for the city.

About 150 of the geese had been living in the park year round rather than migrating, as geese habitually do.

But after three days of dog patrols this week, Mr. Blonsky said, the number of geese dwindled to about half a dozen. A team of four collies will be in the park for the rest of the month and will probably return in the fall, he said.

Known for their ferocity when protecting their turf or their young, the park’s geese have been chasing ducks and other birds away, Mr. Blonsky said. They also have the potential to contribute to erosion and to the fouling of the lake by the sheer volume of their dung.

The geese spend most of their time at Harlem Meer, which mimics their preferred habitat — a body of water surrounded by short grass. At night, they venture south to two of the park’s jewels: the Sheep Meadow and the Great Lawn. In those places, park officials take great pains to protect the grass, restricting large gatherings and most sporting activities. Mr. Blonsky said geese grazing and droppings could quickly overwhelm the grass.

Parks officials said that before turning to the dogs, they tried a variety of options: education campaigns to stop people from feeding the geese; letting the grass grow taller to disrupt the birds’ eating habits; building fences to confuse them and try to limit access to certain areas.

However, Mr. Blonsky said, “it was not enough to discourage the geese.”

Border collies are used in such cases because they have been bred as herd animals and are able to frighten geese via “the stare,” a particular look and stance that leads geese to conclude that the dogs are predators, according to park officials.

Sometimes the geese allow themselves to be corralled by the collies before flying off; at other times they fly away when they see the dogs coming. By contrast, geese quickly lose their fear of human scare tactics, like shouting and arm waving.

Adrian Benepe, the city’s parks commissioner, said that so far no one had objected to the treatment of the geese.

“The geese are not being hurt. They are being harassed the same way they harass animals that get in their way,” he said. “We haven’t had any complaints, but this is New York and it’s still early.”

Several hours later, after the demonstration had ended and the dogs had gone, the geese had returned. In pairs, they ducked their heads into the water, eating aquatic plants, and soared above the Meer, honking noisily.