COMMENTARY: Duck, duck, goose

by Jun 24, 2019OPINIONS





Ducks and geese are cute. We have a large population of Mallard ducks and Canadian geese on the Qualla Boundary. I could feel you rolling your eyes are you read that. Yes, it is common knowledge that we have a bounty of feathered friends here, particularly in and around the Oconaluftee Island Park.

A healthy Canadian goose produces 1.75 pounds of manure each day. By comparison, the average dog puts out about .75 pounds of solid waste per day. One goose contributes 638 pounds of fertilizer each year to the Boundary. Let’s be conservative and say there are 200 geese that call Cherokee their home. That would mean that we are being bombarded with 63.8 tons of feces each year.

No wonder you must play hopscotch on many of the sidewalks and trails at the Ocoanluftee Island Park, Cherokee Welcome Center, and other public areas along the river. Watching the daily battle between building staff and our feathered friends would be amusing if it weren’t for the fact that we are using resources, labor, and that they may be handling biohazardous materials.

A 2012 report discussed goose issues in the state of Ohio, who went from nearly no population of Canadian geese to approximately 150,000 geese (and growing) because of a repopulation effort. One of the bi-products of the goose contributions is an elevated risk of E. coli. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources began putting out public service information to inform the public of the dangers.

“No little Jimmy, don’t eat that. Those are not tootsie rolls on the ground in the park by the pond.”

“That, little Jimmy, is manure — unregulated, unmonitored, nutrient-rich manure — going directly from this poultry of the sky right into the state’s water supply. Some park ponds have goose manure so thick that walking is hazardous and swimming is forbidden.”

“The real, measurable impact they make is the E. coli counts they leave on the shorelines and beaches. Last year when they took the count, 40 percent of the samples had E. coli levels higher than what we consider safe for children to swim in. In other words, if they swim in it, they could get diarrhea,” said Merv Bartholow, a director of the Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow (BLT) watershed management group. “This year, 65 percent to 69 percent of the samples were higher than what they need to be and, for all intents and purposes, the beaches are closed.”

Hundreds, if not thousands, of local community members and tourists, enjoy a stroll, a picnic, or a splash party at the Island Park every year. They swim in the Oconaluftee and roll around in the grass and dirt in the Park. They pick up duck and goose feathers and stone mementos from their trip, all likely having at least trace amounts of fecal matter on them from a fowl contribution.

There must be a way we can balance the risk with the enjoyment of these creatures. If you are visiting the Island Park or other areas where the geese congregate, you may help the situation by not feeding them. This can be difficult because they are cute and they will beg for food (a response that we have taught them). If you feed them, they remember that they get feed if they wait in that location. And feeding them is where that 1.75 pounds of manure results. And where they eat, they are bound to leave a fecal contribution.

We all must help in getting this threat under control. Realizing what our role is in helping Fish and Wildlife management alleviate the problem will get us one step closer to a solution.