Warning: This column is all about poop

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Since the talk around town the past couple of weeks has been about community cleanup, it seems appropriate for me to mention my own area of concern:

Goose poop.

Anyone who's been to Walker Park over the past few months, or anyone who's used the walking trail at the Sportsplex recently, knows what I'm talking about. In both places, the walkways are absolutely covered with goose excrement. It's become pretty much impossible to visit either area without having to scrape goose feces off the bottom of your shoes before you get back into the car.

It's disgusting and embarrassing. We're talking about areas of our community that ought to be nice, scenic places. Instead, they're full of, well, poop.

Blytheville isn't the only community to face this problem. According to a 2008 article from the Vancouver Sun, a Canada geese population explosion is sweeping across North America. The problem apparently began in the late 1970s, when Canada geese were introduced to many areas to increase hunting opportunities on private land. But the program backfired because most of the geese took up residence in urban and residential areas, where hunting is not allowed ... places like Blytheville, Ark.

But the problem for cities like Blytheville goes beyond aesthetics -- it's a public health hazard as well. Research at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta suggests that Canada goose excrement is laden with potentially dangerous bacteria. Up to 94 percent of goose excrement is said to contain some form of E. coli and salmonella microbes.

Not exactly the kind of thing you want around places where kids and adults are playing, fishing and swimming, if you ask me.

Of course, the question is what to do about it. Probably the best solution would be to simply power-wash the sidewalks about every 10 days. But given the city's current track record at maintaining its parks (not to mention the overall lack of resources when it comes to finances and manpower), I'm not counting on this happening anytime soon. Sure, the city will clean the sidewalks once or twice a year, but anyone who visits the park or the Sportsplex knows that the poop problem isn't a "once or twice a year" kind of issue.

A better option might be to simply run off the geese.

That solution isn't likely to be too well received by the folks who like to head out to the park on Saturday mornings, and chuck their stale bread from the bridge to the gaggle of hungry geese who are accustomed to the ritual. But it may be something that simply must be done. The question is how.

In some places where the population of wild animals, such as deer, have overrun suburban areas, communities have opened up areas to hunting -- often with bows and arrows only -- in order to thin out the herds. I don't know if it would work with Canada geese, and the animal lovers probably wouldn't think too much of it. But it's a thought.

Another option would be to take a lesson from the town of Easton, Mass., which has been using border collies to chase off its Canada geese.

According to a 2010 news article, the city used a tandem of border collies to banish Canada geese from public walkways, lawns and golf courses. The town had previously used things like coyote decoys, gunshots and noisemakers, but such things didn't sufficiently scare the geese.

Only the border collies, which resemble the Arctic fox (a natural predator for Canada geese), have done the trick. The dogs use their natural herding instincts to round up the offending geese and drive them out of areas where they aren't welcome. It may take several weeks, but eventually the geese surrender and move onto other, dog-less areas, the article said.

I maybe in the minority on all this. There are no doubt some people who would consider our Canada goose population to be one of our community's greatest treasures. But I'm not one of them. To me, they are nothing but walking, flying poop factories, who are contributing far more than their fair share to our community's unsightliness.

I'm ready to see them go.

aweld@blythevillecourier.com