Urban habitats weren’t meant for wild animals, and goose droppings pose real health risks that shouldn’t be ignored
It is fun and easy to fault our local officials when a solution they adopt does not fit our world view.
Culling the overpopulation of geese is a good example and has made great headlines and social media outrage for those willing to suspend belief in the name of protecting the less fortunate.
In fact, like other cities’ employees, Denver staff have worked hard to find solutions to the proliferation of rural and exotic species in our urban environment.
It would be nice for pet owners and campers to be able to let droppings (feces) just take their natural course and decompose and add nutrients where they fall.
But when we choose to live in cities and recreate in pristine mountain places, we must deal with the droppings. It is not a matter of lost freedoms, rights, or nuisance.
It is a matter of health.
From the earliest paleo days, humans have learned that without sanitation, disease and death follow. This is true of pig farms, parks, cattle sheds, campgrounds, condos, cantaloupe farms, chicken packing plants and cul-de-sacs.
Without effective sanitation, all are capable of dispersing E. coli as well as disease to our home river. When a local government ignores sanitation, it is an absolute reason for outrage.
Nature is a brutal and dangerous place. One reason the goose population is unnaturally large is the elimination of the brutal killing and eating of geese and goslings by foxes and coyotes. Culling is less brutal and is meant to accomplish the same thing.
There will always be unresolvable differences about the killing of any animal.
Culling of elk in Estes Park and Evergreen always elicits the same anything-but-death reaction from some. With predators gone and bluegrass in abundance, we have protected these wild animals from natural death.
It does them no favor. Feeding wildlife is not doing them any favors either.
People feeding geese in Denver is another reason they are overpopulated. It is also against the law, even though it seems to be the right thing to do in the winter. It is not.
Denver’s parks are an unnatural environment for this species. Their increasing numbers are not stable. We have not domesticated wild geese like dogs or farm animals. They are not pets. They are wild animals that we have unwittingly lured to places not suitable for them.
Denver has a long-term sustainability goal of eliminating non-native bluegrass from large expanses of lawns. The well-documented Goose Management Plan outlines other methods Denver will use. All interested in this topic should read it.
Our urban environment, with exotic bluegrass and few coyotes, raptors, raccoons and crows has resulted in an overpopulation of geese that is affecting the E. coli count in the Denver South Platte River. No species droppings are free of problems — for other species or their own.
Concerns for health are not in doubt as some have said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically states: “Many germs that might be found in bird droppings can infect humans. Duck and goose droppings, in particular, might contain germs such as E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, or Cryptosporidium.”
Dog owners and dogs frolicking in the Denver South Platte should be protected from as many pollutants and diseases as possible if we are to have a healthy river.
The solution will be a combination of measures for these and other threats to human life posed by the artificial environment we have created for ourselves.
To adopt a philosophy that enables the proliferation of a species, the explosion of E. coli threats, and the destruction of our home river is outrageous, even if it feels good.
John Davenport is an activist, author and conservationist focusing on the Denver South Platte River. He lives in Denver.
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