Feeding the Geese (copy)

Geese are fed at Silver Lake Park in Rochester. The city has discouraged feeding the waterfowl since 2007, noting it can lead to illness in the geese, including a syndrome called “angel wing”

Nearly a third of the 159 proposed designs for a new Rochester city flag carried geese images.

The city’s iconic waterfowl have been part of Rochester’s background since Dr. Charles Mayo Sr. purchased 15 Canada Geese in 1924 for Mayowood, which attracted hundreds of migrating geese.

More than a decade later, the creation of Silver Lake in 1936 made the area desirable for more of the migrating birds, and the 1948 addition of the nearby power plant’s heated water increased the lake’s attraction for both residential geese and those that migrate.

Now, Rochester’s Park Board is again pondering geese numbers.

“Since I’ve been here — five years — we’ve had complaints off and on about the geese at Silver Lake,” Rochester Park and Recreation Director Paul Widman said. “I know we do have people who don’t go to the park because of the geese.”

On Tuesday, the Park Board will continue its discussion of how the geese impact the city’s parks — particularly Silver Lake Park — and what can be done to manage the numbers.

“I’m loading the board up with a lot of information,” Widman said.

The materials sent to the Park Board include suggestions by the Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, also known as PETA, as well as a review of city efforts made in 2007, when tall grass and other native plants were added to Silver Lake’s edge to provide a filter and deter nesting.

Geese numbers in the city have dropped since 2007, when the tall grass was planted and the city began discouraging feeding the geese in the park. According to Christmas bird counts conducted by the Zumbro Valley Audubon Society, the number of Canada geese seen in the area was between 15,000 and 20,000 at the time.

In the last count, 9,884 Canada geese were recorded, which was up from 4,000 the year before.

Widman said observations at Silver Lake show numbers were down during the summer, which makes it an ideal time to consider taking action, but he points out sudden changes won’t be seen.

“I think there is a lot of misperceptions long term what to expect out of any one tactic,” he said.

Another factor in the timing of the discussion is the recent creation of the Silver Lake Friends group, which has put clearing park trails of goose droppings as one of its five priorities.

Greg Munson, one of the group’s founders, said they steered away from seeking to control the goose population, considering the task better handled by the city.

“Of all the Silver Lake issues that’s one that is going to be the trickiest,” he said, noting the volunteer group would prefer to focus on other improvements, including ways to keep the park’s trails clear of goose droppings

Widman agreed that any proposal to control geese numbers will come with challenges, but he said he’s hoping the new Silver Lake group can pitch in, since the city has limited park funding and staff.

“If we go down this route, it’s going to require a lot of volunteer support or it will be a budget item,” he said, noting he hopes Silver Lake Friends can help supply volunteers or funding to support the effort.

Munson said discussions are too preliminary to determine the group’s participation, if the Park Board decides to authorize any action.

Widman said he’s uncertain what the board might determine to be the right approach, if any, but said he will discourage repeating some past discussions.

“Back in ‘07 some of the measures that were presented were to do a roundup or an early goose hunt,” he said. “We want to make it clear that’s not something we are going to be recommending to the board.”

The discussion will be part of the Park Board’s monthly meeting, which starts at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and is being held at the Quarry Hill Prairie House, 701 Silver Creek Road NE.

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