Updated April 17, 1:20 pm
Vineyard farmers met with wildlife specialists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Thursday afternoon to seek help in reducing Canada geese populations.
The farmers say the normally migratory geese have settled on the Vineyard year-round by the thousands. In addition to munching away on pastureland and crops, the geese leave behind carpets of droppings. The farmers want the geese gone, and say using state hunting permits alone, they cannot dent the populations. The meeting was put together in about 24 hours by Mitch Posin of the Allen Farm, and hosted by Agricultural Society president Brian Athearn at the Ag Hall.
“You don’t have predators on the Island, that’s the big thing,” USDA wildlife technician Justin Sypek told the farmers. Sypek said the USDA can bring to bear a number of solutions, from egg addling or oiling to shotguns. He suggested a four-person team would be necessary over the course of roughly a week.
If the solution involved shotguns, Matt Dix of North Tabor Farm asked how to work in Tisbury, which has a bylaw prohibiting firearms discharges.
“If there’s a longstanding prohibition of firearms, we might have a problem,” Sypek said.
USDA wildlife technician Ryan Bevilacqua said a type of net gun could be employed in that case.
A critical step in the process, Sypek said, is ensuring as many farm owners as possible return a completed Form 12, which permits the USDA access to their land. A problem, he said, is when attempting to control geese on one farm, they can flee to another.
Also present was Edgartown Golf Club general manager Mark Hess, who said he believed many of the Island’s golf courses would like USDA help with Canada geese.
“We donate all the geese we get,” Sypek said. “We don’t let anything go to waste.”
Sypek said he would have a price ready for the farmers by Monday. An off-the-cuff guess of $10,000 to $20,000 was given by Bevilacqua, if housing could be provided for technicians. When the USDA might start if the price was settled wasn’t clear. Ag Society vice president Julie Scott was selected to be the farmers’ liaison to the USDA.
In the wake of the meeting, Islander Jackie Kane reached out to Athearn to pitch what he described as to The Times as “telepathy” to control the geese. Kane told The Times the proper term is animal communication, a practice similar to horse whispering. She cited the work of Danielle Sender with vultures in Virginia and Anna Breytenbach with elephants in Africa. If need be, Kane said, she would be willing to pony up her own money to bring an animal communicator to the Vineyard to commune with the geese and see if a solution can be reached. “I really want a peaceful solution,” she said.
“As much as I would like to believe that telepathic communication with geese would be an acceptable solution,” Athearn said, “I don’t believe in the reality of that as a functional means of solving this problem.”
He said farmers and caretakers have tried lasers, reflective lights, and other gentler means of shooing the birds, and they’ve proven ineffective.
At the close of the farmers’ meeting with the USDA specialists, Posin summed up his position.
“The goal that I’m after is not only having you come,” he said, “but educating the public that if we want to have farms here, we have to get rid of these geese.”
Updated to add comments by Jackie Kane.