2017-08-10 / Front Page

Geese killed in Biddeford Pool

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services culled a flock of Canada geese in Biddeford Pool to protect shellfish in the tidal area.

Members of the Biddeford Shellfish Conservation Committee voted via email Wednesday, July 19 four to one to allocate $1,922 for the removal and euthanasia of the geese. Committee members were concerned the geese were raising the fecal count in the water to a level that would prevent harvesting of clams and mussels.

All inquiries into the committee’s decision process for the culling were directed to Shellfish Conservation Committee Chairman Peter Bouthillette who declined to comment on the operation. The United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services Public Affairs did not return a request for information before deadline.

Kohl Kanwit, director of the Bureau of Public Health for the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said Biddeford Pool is in danger of becoming restricted. Under Department of Marine Resources guidelines, as of March 2016 Biddeford Pool is conditionally approved for shellfish harvesting based on performance of the Biddeford Pool Wastewater Treatment plant. A small western section of the pool is conditionally restricted because it received a score of 53 on the water quality test. A score above 31 results in closure. The mouth of Biddeford Pool received a score of 29.9 at the end of 2016. Kanwit said other areas of the pool could easily rise as well.

“If they continue to get routine samples at or above 31 the pool is going to wind up becoming restricted,” Kanwit said. “I guess Biddeford clammers are trying to be proactive in maintaining access to the water.”

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge Manager Ward Feurt said his organization was notified of the removal, but the refuge was not involved in either the planning or implementation of the culling. He said 20 years ago most people believed the cycle of tides would keep mudflat waters clean but that turned out not to be true.

“Common knowledge was that the solution to pollution is dilution, but not anymore,” Feurt said.

Ward 1 Councilor and Shellfish Conservation Committee member Michael Swanton was the single dissenting vote to remove the geese. Swanton said committee members were not aware the geese would be euthanized at the time of the vote. He said the United States Department of Agriculture tried to relocate the geese but were unable to do so.

“Members of the committee thought the fecal content in the water was rising from the number of geese nesting in the area,” Swanton said. “One way to get the fecal count down was to remove the geese.”

Swanton wrote in an email that about 80 geese were surrounded by kayaks and captured with a net. As the geese were being put in cages some of them died from stress. The rest were euthanized and donated to local food pantries. Swanton said seagulls are rarely targeted for removal because huge flocks of them don’t crowd one area like Canada geese do.

Almost all birds native to the United States are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The act makes it illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell or buy any migratory bird or their nests or eggs except under the terms of a valid permit issued by the federal government. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services issues federal migratory bird depredation permits that allow the lethal take of migratory birds except eagles and threatened and endangered species. Permit applications require a description of damage and potential economic loss caused by the birds.

Kanwit said other municipalities in the state have conducted targeted removals of wildlife, such as geese and beavers, over shellfish sanitation concerns. Shellfish harvesting is also not approved anywhere in the state if an area receives more than two inches of rain in 24 hours or less.

“Shellfish need time to purge after an event like that,” Kanwit said.

The Department of Marine Resources conducts systematic and random samples six times a year at stations around the state to measure water quality. Researchers measure levels of fecal coliform, a bacteria easily grown in the lab, which indicates the presence of fecal matter but not the source. Kanwit said fecal matter from geese has been shown to carry salmonella.

“Fecal contamination is well understood as a bad thing,” she said.

According to the USDA website, the population of Canada geese in the United States has increased from 230,000 in 1970 to 3.89 million in 2009. In fiscal year 2012, Wildlife Services chased away 589,000 geese and euthanized 24,678. In New York State, Wildlife Services collected 5,000 Canada geese during molting season when they were unable to fly and transported them to poultry facilities, where they were processed and donated to local food charities. Canada geese are reported to deposit between one half and one pound of feces per bird per day.

Bill Durkin, Friends of Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge president, said there has been an increase in the past 10 to 15 years of the Canada geese population in the area. Durkin said game management is common in other places such as Monhegan Island, where deer are culled certain months of the year.

“It doesn’t seem outrageous to me something

In this map of Biddeford Pool, the area in blue is conditionally approved for shellfish harvesting, meaning it could be closed if pollution levels rise. The green area of the pool is conditionally restricted because the station on the west shore, represented by a black dot, tested well above the acceptable level of pollution in the water. The orange dot by the mouth of the pool next to the “Cable Area” received a score of 29.9 the last time it was tested. A score above 31 would result in the closure of that section of the pool. Other areas tested below

31 but Maine Department of Marine

Resources researchers said scores could rise quickly depending on conditions. (Courtesy photo)

Return to top