Councillor wants mass cull to control snow geese in Richmond

The only way to deal with Richmond’s snow geese problem is to kill thousands of birds in an organized mass cull, according to longtime Coun. Harold Steves.

While Steves supports a new program to train volunteers and their dogs to chase the geese away from school playgrounds and parks, he thinks it won’t do much more than move the birds from one field to another. It won’t get at the real problem – too many geese.

Steves said he originally called for the cull 10 years ago before the geese moved inland from Sturgeon Banks, the 8,700-hectare estuary to the west of Richmond. At the time, he said he was roundly criticized for supporting killing the birds.

“I have a report from 1972 when there were 20,000 snow geese in the Fraser River estuary,” he said. “When I was calling for the cull there were 80,000 snow geese. Last year, there were 100,000.”

This year, he predicted, there could be as many as 120,000.

“You can move them from one field to another by training people to chase them with dogs. Unless you come to grips with the problem, it’s going to get worse.”

Richmond is planning to train a limited number of volunteers and their medium- to large-sized dogs to harass geese starting this month and continuing to April.

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Volunteers will be trained professionally, assigned to a specific park or field, and given an identifiable vest to wear.

Volunteers can work at their convenience from 4 p.m. to dusk Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to dusk on weekends.

Steves said part of the reason for the increasing number of geese has to do with global warming. With more snow melting earlier on the birds’ summer nesting area on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean, the geese have used the expanding breeding ground to produce more offspring.

Locally, Steves blamed a ban on hunting on Sturgeon Banks for playing a role. But he said that even if hunting was re-introduced, it wouldn’t have much of an immediate impact, because the birds have become used to feeding inland. He said they have almost become domesticated.

Walk into a flock of thousands of geese feeding in a field, he said, and they’ll open a pathway that will close in behind.

Steves, a member of one of Richmond’s pioneering families, said he used to eat snow geese regularly as a youngster growing up in the area. He maintains they make a wonderful meal.

“We used to live on snow geese,” he said. “That was our main source of food. We had goose dinner every Christmas. Now you can’t because you can’t shoot them on Sturgeon Banks.”

With the construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road and the expansion of Deltaport, about 225 hectares of grassy fields that the snow geese used to feed on have been lost to development. He believes that habitat loss will lead to the problem only getting worse in Richmond.

When the birds leave on their 5,000-kilometre migration from the Arctic Circle, they divide into two groups: one that winters in the estuaries of the Fraser and Skagit rivers, and the other that heads further south to Central Valley in California.

In 2010, Richmond expanded its program to combat the snow geese by hiring more dog handlers to scare the birds away and convincing farmers to plant grass so the birds can feed on the roots.