There is a bench in the prairie at Indian Springs Metropark, where if you sit sideways facing east, you can see hills of green in every direction, no roads and no buildings. These hills laid down by glaciers, some 17,000 years ago, are dotted with groups of oak trees and carpeted with an array of native prairie plants.
What is the program?
The Metroparks has had a Canada Goose management program going back over a decade. Goose populations within our park have increased steadily, negatively impacting the water quality at the park and the experience of park patrons. Our Canada Goose management program is an effort to address both of these issues by discouraging geese from living in the recreation areas of the park, and encouraging geese to move to more natural areas both inside and outside of the park. This year, we are partnering with Goose Busters to help expand our goose management program.
What is the purpose of this program?
Once considered a threatened species, Canada Goose populations in Michigan have gone from about 9,000 birds in 1970 to over 300,000 present day. Approximately, 78% of these birds are estimated to be living in southeast Michigan.
Geese may be aggressive to park patrons and their children or pets, especially when preparing to nest or lay eggs. A single goose eats about four pounds of grass per day, and produces about three pounds of waste daily. With several hundred geese present at Lake St. Clair Metropark, there is an impact on our lake, beachfront, recreation and picnic areas. It is the goal of this program to reduce the number of geese in the public-use areas of the park by persuading geese to leave these areas for the marshlands and other more natural habitats.
What do the dogs do?
Goose Busters’ highly trained border collies safely move the geese out of recreation areas by simulating a predator. There is no contact between the dogs and the geese. Each dog is handled by an experienced trainer who works with them as a team to drive geese out of an area. The dogs do not bark, but rather work with stealth, speed, and to imitate a predator.
Dogs will not interfere with park patron’s activities or their pets, and will be clearly identified as a working dog by wearing a vest. When geese are unable to fly due to molting, or if geese are immature or injured, the dogs are not allowed to pursue them. The experienced handler uses the dog as a tool; the dog is never left to run wild after geese.
What else has the Metroparks done to control geese populations?
In addition to this new method, Metroparks Natural Resources staff has been engaged in a goose management program for over a decade. Previous methods used are: discouraging nesting geese through egg collection and nest destruction, harassing geese with noisemakers, posting silhouettes of predators, and the roundup and relocation of hundreds of geese. Even with these time consuming and expensive activities, geese populations in the park have only risen. Natural Resources staff believes that continuing these activities with the addition of using trained dogs will improve the health of the beach and water at Lake St. Clair Metropark.
Will there still be geese in the park?
Yes, geese will still be present in many areas of the park, however we will attempt to encourage them to leave recreation areas for more natural areas.
What effect will this have on native/sensitive birds (or other sensitive species/areas/etc.)?
The dogs are trained only to pursue geese when ordered. They will not interfere with other animals or birds at the park. The dogs will work almost exclusively in public areas.
Is this safe for the dogs?
Yes. Experienced handlers ensure the safety of the dog and will not send dogs into areas deemed unsafe. Various animal rights groups have vetted this program as a humane and effective method of goose control.
How effective is this program?
This is a pilot program for the Metroparks and will continue throughout 2018. This type of program has been used to great success in similar parks systems.
How often will I see the dogs at the park?
The dog and handler will be present at the park almost every day in 2018, at varying times of day.
Why are these dogs not on leashes?
These dogs are working animals which need to be off leash to perform their job. When not performing their job duties, these dogs will be on a leash while moving around the park.
Which specific park areas will the dogs be working in? Will these dogs be kept out of natural areas (i.e. trails and the Nature Center)?
The dogs will be working primarily in open recreation areas and along the water’s edge. Dogs will not be in the marsh or other natural areas and will be kept away from events and gatherings of patrons. The dogs will go wherever the geese congregate, but will avoid trails and other high traffic areas whenever able.
Who do I contact if I have more questions about this dog program?
Please contact the Natural Resources Department at the Metroparks at (810) 494-6019 for more information.