Ah, June - when the molting Canada geese are flightless and see the village of Saranac Lake as a safer nesting site than the backcountry. Mowed lawns next to lakes or ponds are especially pleasant. The birds amble in, hang out, graze, poop a lot - an amazing amount, really - and drive us crazy.
Once again, elected officials' reaction to these birds is the biggest news going in Saranac Lake.
But there are a couple of key differences this time around:
1. The site is the high school field rather than the village parkland along Lake Flower. Since the alleged geese-feces-germ victims are students - including the football players this community is so proud of - people have gotten more riled up.
2. School officials have asked the Board of Education to hire a goose exterminator, after years of trying non-lethal measures, and the board agreed - and didn't change its mind when asked to reconsider the matter last Wednesday. Capital punishment was not tried for the offending geese along Lake Flower.
The school's problem is not new. We remember then-new Superintendent John Raymond going off about goose droppings on the practice field back in 2001. Since then, the school has tried many methods of chasing the birds off, but they're still there.
The Enterprise was open to the notion of killing geese (and giving the meat to needy people via local food pantries) in an editorial published three years ago on June 18, 2008. But we also urged the village and DEC to keep trying non-lethal means. Black, wooden dog silhouettes didn't scare the birds away, as hoped, but last summer, officials tried something that did work: They let the grass grow long at the shoreline, then made a low fence with stakes and orange ribbon. The geese didn't cross it - problem solved.
Seeing how well that simple and cheap solution worked is one reason we urge the school district to not kill these geese. Instead, keep trying more non-lethal methods to keep them off the field.
There are other reasons, too:
1. Killing these geese won't solve the problem beyond this summer; the field will be just as inviting for next year's flock. School officials need a long-term solution more than a short-term one, as they heard Wednesday from their would-be exterminator, Mark Carrara, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Saranac Lake doesn't want to be known as a community with an annual goose slaughter.
2. Killing the geese would send a bad message to students: Kill your problems rather than put up with inconvenience. We at the Enterprise aren't animal-rights purists, but on a practical level, students need to learn that nature is more important than sports.
3. The geese may not even be on the field anymore in late June when they are scheduled to be euthanized (in gas chambers, no less). DEC studies of this resident geese population showed that they probably will be on Lake Flower then.
The crux of the problem is that the geese have become conditioned to see the high school field as their pasture, so we need to un-condition them. The grass-fence thing that worked for the village might help here. Also, what about dogs - real dogs? Dog trainer Sharon Bishop has offered to have her dogs chase the geese daily. Also, the Tri-Lakes Humane Society is right up the road; student volunteers could give dogs at the shelter some much-needed exercise. The occasional chase won't change long-term goose behavior, but an organized effort with daily runs during key nesting times might do it.
It won't be easy, but controlling nature rarely is; the easiest way out is often the most vicious. Yes, it's part of human nature to be predatory, but as the smartest of animals, we have the capacity and duty to be merciful toward our fellow creatures.
Since we believe in protecting the wildlife in this 6-million-acre Adirondack Park, since we teach our children environmental conservation and since we are not in imminent danger from these geese, why not give them a stay of execution while trying other methods? There are answers out there.