Martha’s Vineyard has a non-migratory Canada geese problem.
Farmers say that flocks can destroy newly planted crops in a short period of time; the birds can also yank up fresh, native vegetation by the roots; athletes and golf clubs complain about the geese droppings dotting their fields; homeowners deal with the geese littering their yards.
And, as most recently reported in Aquinnah, the geese lead to contaminated ponds.
The birds leave a lot of droppings. A single goose can deposit 1 to 2 pounds of waste in a single day, which is no laughing matter. The non-migratory geese foul up local water bodies so much that they’ve closed some areas to shellfishing. Most of Menemsha Pond has been closed this summer due to coliform bacteria levels, thanks in large part to the resident goose population.
The town’s shellfish department has noticed more and more of the geese in the last few years, and they’ve counted a year-round population of about 40 geese.
But it’s not just Menemsha Pond. Great ponds around the Island have struggled with a non-migratory geese population and the bacteria that come with it. Officials in Tisbury say nearly 100 geese live around Tashmoo, where their droppings foul up the water. Officials with the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group say there are problems across the Island.
The issue has been studied as well. The Jackson Estuarine Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire studied four salt ponds on the Island in 2007 — Sengekontacket, Farm, Eel, and Trapps’ ponds. The study’s author concluded that bird species, and particularly Canada geese, are a significant source of contamination, particularly for Farm Pond in Oak Bluffs.
Canada geese can’t be the scapegoat for all of the Island’s contamination issues. Septic systems around many water bodies are a significant contributor, if not a main source.
But Canada geese, especially in remote parts of the Island, have a significant impact. There are some solutions that are available, and a promising one that state officials could help with.
Much of Massachusetts has two geese hunting seasons. The early season, underway now, runs about three weeks in September. This so-called early season allows bigger yields for hunters and is meant as a way to cut down on non-migratory geese populations.
Much of the state also has a second, regular geese hunting season. The season lasts more than a month in some areas. But on the Vineyard, and the Cape, there isn’t a winter season. It’s only the three weeks in September that hunters can go after the Canada goose. State wildlife officials say they are protecting a migratory bird that can travel to the Island, which closely resembles the non-migratory geese. The cackling goose is a smaller version of the Canada goose, and looks nearly identical. But local birders say that it’s pretty rare for these migratory birds to visit the Island.
There are also issues with a hunting season that lasts just three weeks in September. For one, many would-be hunters are out fishing during the prime fishing season. There are also still a number of tourists and seasonal residents in town, which can be preventative for hunting. And, three weeks just isn’t enough time.
Opening the Vineyard to a second, winter hunting season could go a long way in reducing a nuisance geese population.
One problem with hunting geese is what to do with the harvest. But we think there are some possibilities here.
A possible solution is to consider something similar to the Island Deer Management Program. In 2019, the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, Island Grown Initiative, and the MV Tick Program partnered to reduce the deer population and limit tick-borne illnesses. The idea is for hunters to take more deer than they typically would during a hunting season, and bring them to harvest for Island Grown to distribute. Reducing the booming deer population would help reduce the booming tick population and reduce tick-borne illnesses, while feeding anyone who might be in need.
Hunters could also partner with some Island chefs and eateries to come up with some options.
Chip Vanderhoop, the shellfish warden in Aquinnah who wants these geese numbers reduced, says that they taste good the day after you hunt them; and they’re good after cooking them down in a pressure cooker.
Reducing the goose population would help farmers, lighten the contamination entering our ponds, keep shellfish beds open, and if the right program comes forward, it could help those in need as well.
Cleaning local ponds and bays is a big task before many towns. Much of the contamination is coming from backyard septic tanks. But reducing the resident geese population could be a help in the effort for cleaner waterways and for shellfishing. We’re hopeful that the state will strongly consider helping the Island communities with this effort, and open up a “regular” hunting season for the geese.