John Harrigan's Woods, Water & Wildlife: Bears, geese, people and what to do about them

Woods, Water and Wildlife

Bears and geese have been much in the news, as both problems and victims, presenting moral dilemmas for wildlife agencies, local officials and the public.

Canada geese are migratory birds, historically nesting and raising young in the far north, flying south to winter where the water stays open so they can float and feed in safety, and flying north in the spring to start the cycle anew.

Three or four decades ago, small flocks of geese here and there that were for some reason not migrating but simply staying around basking in the warm months caught the attention of wildlife biologists. Why weren't these geese migrating? Biologists undertook censuses and scratched their heads.

No easy answer there. Some stayed because people were feeding them.

Others might be descendants of problem geese trapped in Connecticut and released in the Umbagog area. There might be more and better all-season habitat. Summation: Nobody really knows.

But their numbers have grown dramatically, and their feces have become an onerous problem at farms and golf courses and town and city parks -- just about any well-maintained green space where they can feed on grass in relative safety. A big part of the problem is a lack of predators. Foxes, coyotes and fishers could make a dent in the population but are not likely to safely penetrate the outer fringes of housing developments, highways and commerce, and the geese know it.

Now, during molting season when geese cannot fly, wildlife workers responding to widespread public and civic complaints are rounding up geese and gassing them. In some cases the birds offered to needy people or chopped up and fed to rescued canines. In others, the carcasses are double-bagged and thrown into landfills. And predictably there is a great public outcry and debate over all this.

Bears, meanwhile, are constantly in trouble because of people who are careless with bird-feeders and garbage or, unbelievably, people who feed them because they love to see them, in a Disney up-close-and-personal way. In general, a fed bear is a dead bear, as the mantra goes, because it's hooked like an addict, and trapping and releasing it elsewhere doesn't work because there is no place left where an educated bear can't find human sources for food. So, eventually, it's a dead bear, because of human carelessness or downright stupidity.

Here's one for the books. In the Great Gulf, a federally designated wilderness area, hikers startled by a bear threw food at it and ran away. After a couple of these incidents, the bear learned that if it approached people it was rewarded with food. It thus became, in the eyes of the public and officialdom, a menace, and was removed (I do not know its fate).

It was impossible, apparently, to close trails in that section and remove the cause of the problem -- the people -- and leave the bear alone.

John Harrigan's column appears weekly. His address is Box 39, Colebrook 03576. E-mail him at