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August 14, 2012 / V A Nichols

Geese removed from Fairhope’s swimming beach last week

Geese removed from Fairhope’s swimming beach last week

The Fairhope Courier sets record straight about birds’ relocation

 

Geese removed from Fairhope’s swimming beach last week

Geese removed from Fairhope’s swimming beach last week

Less than a dozen Canada geese, including those pictured here Aug. 8, were the only ones left following the removal last week of some 40 birds from Fairhope’s beach-front park and city-run golf course, according to a city staffer. The relocations were prompted by last’s year water pollution advisories issued at Fairhope’s swimming beach by the state health department. Although the relocation took place last week, media reports reported this week that the decision was still pending. In its Aug. 10 edition this morning, The Fairhope Courier reported for the first time that the relocation had already taken place more than a week ago. Photo by Mike Odom/Fairhope Courier photo

Posted: Friday, August 10, 2012 11:29 am | Updated: 11:38 am, Fri Aug 10, 2012.

By Mike Odom The Fairhope Courier courier@gulfcoastnewspapers.com | 5 comments

FAIRHOPE, Alabama—Despite widespread media accounts that a public meeting would occur Aug. 8 to discuss the fate of water fowl at Fairhope’s beach-front park, a large number of Canada geese had been relocated a week earlier but that information never made it into newspaper and television reports.

After digging into the issue this week, The Fairhope Courier reported in its Aug. 10 print edition that some 40 Canada geese had already been moved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on instructions from city leaders.

Getting the facts

The mystery of what happened to hundreds of Canada geese that went missing from the city’s beach-front park last week may have been solved.

Or maybe not.

But there’s little doubt that the issue of what to do about the geese has become a political hot potato at a time when the election in hotly-contested races for mayor and five City Council seats takes place Aug. 28. These elected officials are well aware of the strong and diverse feelings and opinions among residents about what to do about the water fowl in the park.

Attempts to confirm rumors after a public meeting on Aug. 8 that some geese had already been moved last week were shunted from person to person in the city. That’s rarely the case in covering Fairhope city government and politics, even on controversial issues.

For example, the animal control officer referred The Courier to General Administrator James Gillespie, the second-highest staffer in the city, who said talk with Sherry Sullivan, who often handles press issues for the city, who said by email that she was unaware of the situation because she had been out of town for the past week.

Mayor Tim Kant was in the office Wednesday but did not return a phone call for comment.

Even the head of the city’s environmental board, which has been studying the issue of water contamination at the park in order to make a recommendation about it, refused to speak on the record about when he learned of the geese relocation and what he thought about how the issue was handled by the city.

Eventually, City Administrator Gregg Mims, the city’s top staffer, did call Wednesday afternoon and confirmed that about 40 Canada geese had been relocated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the direction of city leaders. He said a flock of some 200 or more geese had been gathering at the beach recently, but most had left on the day when the relocation took place.

But some citizens wonder why the beach is now all but empty of Canada geese, many of which had become domesticated and raised their young each year in and around the duck pond and park just north of the municipal pier.

“If all the others left on their own, it seems like some would have returned the next day,” Bruce Carnahan said yesterday. “But there were just about nine down there as of yesterday.”

The public’s interest

Carnahan and more than a dozen citizens, including two children, showed up at a Wednesday morning meeting of a city advisory board that rarely draws an audience.

The cause of the turnout were stories that ran earlier in the week online, in print and on TV, reporting that the Fairhope Environmental Advisory Board, appointed by the City Council to study and advise the council and mayor on environmental issues, would meet to take up the issue of what to do about the geese.

The first article was posted on the Press-Register’s website and in its print edition, which was picked up by The Associated Press and featured on local TV stations, reporting that the decision facing the city was either to “capture and relocate the geese, close the beach, or live with a health hazard that may make children and adults sick.”

During the Wednesday meeting, several people in the audience wanted to know if the geese had been moved, but no one from the board would directly answer that question.

That decision had already been made and the birds moved even though it didn’t show up in any of the news coverage a week later. The geese were relocated last Tuesday by putting a sedative agent on food that tranquilized the birds, were then captured and relocated, Mims said.

One person at the Wednesday meeting said she had been told by the park’s gate-attendant that the geese had been moved July 31, which Mims confirmed to The Courier on Aug. 8, and similar stories began appearing last week on the city’s Facebook page and elsewhere in social media.

The geese and other water fowl at the park became the focus of the FEAB’s study into the possible causes of frequent swimming advisories issued at the park last year by the state health department for high levels of bacteria that pose a risk to human health.

The discussion on social media sites ranged from that the water pollution was caused by sewer discharge problems to recipes for cooking the geese. Some discussions got heated on the city’s Facebook page, and such strong emotions were also evident in Wednesday’s meeting.

“We understand the sensitivity of the issue and are familiar with how many families with children go down there to enjoy the birds and duck pond and beach,” Mims said Wednesday after the meeting. “But if we have 300 geese down there that’s an unhealthy situation. The city is trying to reach a balance about what to do.”

Another relocation of geese is planned for October, said Mims, who did not immediately have information about who paid for the relocation or how much it cost. He also did not know where the geese were relocated.

Geese were moved not only from the beach but also from Quail Creek Golf Course he said, reiterating that the total number was about 40, and not the 125 that some people have claimed who visit the beach on a regular basis and wonder where all the geese have gone.

He suggested that the birds do migrate and it seems likely they simply flew off, he said.

The decision process

As for who made the decision to relocate the geese, Mims said that Gillespie coordinated with Kant about the issue, and “the mayor kind of signed off on it.”

Attempts to reach the staffer at the USDA’s Montgomery office in charge of the relocation were not successful by press time yesterday. But later on Thursday his assistant called and said he was referring all calls about the geese to Mims, because, she said, “to make sure that everyone gets the same information.”

Carnahan, who visits the park almost daily, said it was probably a good thing that some of the geese were moved. But he also said the city should consult with the people who spend a lot time down there and are familiar with the various bird populations, before making decisions like this.

“I think it’s good that a few of the geese were moved,” he said. “We had too many. But when you’re doing something like this, you should know what you’re doing, instead of just doing it.”

Some of the Canada geese, which mate for life, he said, had become domesticated and did not migrate. And some of those that lived at the park had been separated from their companions by last week’s relocation, Carnahan said.

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One Comment

Leave a Comment
  1. ABS314 / Aug 14 2012 12:24 PM

    Where were the geese relocated? To Disneyworld?

    Why such secrecy about this?

    Unless, of course, they were relocated to hunting preserves, or gassed to death. After all, that is what the USDA and it’s killing agency, Wildlife Services does.

    Why were the geese not managed by non-lethal programs long before the population got so “out of hand?” There would never have been a problem in the first place if this had been done. If the geese were killed, within a month, new geese will have come in to take the place of the slaughtered ones.

    A city council that is clueless as to the management of geese cannot be muchy better in the management of people. Get rid of these clowns.

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