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Geese are open season at Sandpoint City Beach

Canada geese pick for food under a tree at City Beach in Sandpoint in February 2002.  (Brian Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Canada geese pick for food under a tree at City Beach in Sandpoint in February 2002. (Brian Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

In an effort to control the goose population, Sandpoint has authorized a goose hunt at Sandpoint City Beach Park.

The city estimates there are 250 Canada geese living in the park on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille.

The geese have been a growing nuisance, and attempts over the last several years to deter them have been unsuccessful. Goose feces liter the grass and beach, making the park unpleasant and leading to sanitation concerns, a resolution by the city council says.

Allowing hunters to harvest geese will thin their numbers at the beach, encourage resident geese to move out and discourage migrant geese from wintering there, the city’s goose management plan says.

The controlled hunt, which began Dec. 16, will be twice a week through the end of the goose hunting season Jan. 13.

The opportunity attracted strong interest from hunters. Six days after announcing, the city drew 21 names out of over 130 applications, City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said.

Hunters must be 21 or older and have a hunting license and migratory bird permit. Each hunter is allowed to bring three guest hunters, who may be under 21, but must also be licensed. The bag limit is five geese per hunter.

Sandpoint Police Department is managing the hunt. Police chief Corey Coon said signs will be posted and officers will help monitor the perimeter for safety.

The park will be closed during the hunts from dawn to 10 a.m. with cleanup by 11 a.m. The city will set up picnic tables as blinds, and hunters must shoot away from shore over the water.

The city council approved the hunt in a 4-1 vote on Dec. 7.

Council President Kate McAlister said she considered a quote expressing the original intent of the Lions Club chapter when it established the park in the 1950s.

“After reading that I thought the intent was pretty clear,” she said, “that it would be a park for all of us to enjoy and not used as a geese sanctuary.”

Sandpoint planned the hunt with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

“Everything the city has done to try to mitigate the geese at the beach basically isn’t working,” Coon said.

The city tried deploying fake coyote decoys, repellents, distress calls and other scare devices with little success, according to the goose management plan. A dog handler was hired to chase the geese away.

Officials consulted with Geese Peace, a Virginia-based organization that helps communities humanely resolve conflicts with geese, about egg oiling, which prevents eggs from hatching and reduces loyalty of adult geese to the area. However, this strategy was not implemented because the nests were not located in the park.

In 2019, the city applied for a federal permit to capture, band and relocate the geese to lakes elsewhere in the state. When they did another capture the following year, 46% of the banded geese had returned.

They gathered 213 geese in 2021. Many were younger birds that had not been banded, but of the adults, a majority had bands from previous years.

The relocation permit was denied this year because of the prevalence of bird flu.

Hunters are required to report any geese that have bands, to help with tracking.

In consulting with other communities that have done similar hunts, Coon learned that they need to continue every year in order to be effective.

“It’s a repeated thing,” he told city council. “It’s not a once and done.”

His goal is to continue the hunt next year and to start earlier in the hunting season.

The only other controlled hunt in city limits that Stapleton is aware of was a deer hunt at Sandpoint Airport in 2014, when deer wandering onto the runway were a safety hazard. That hunt was limited to bow hunters. The city has since built a higher fence around the runway.

The city of Lewiston used to hold goose hunts within city limits until about 15 years ago.

“With reproduction rates of geese, it’s not really a productive tool, down here, for population control,” said James Tear, supervisor of Idaho Fish and Game’s Clearwater Region office in Lewiston. “But it does relieve short-term issues.”

Tear noted that there may be some environmental differences between Lewiston, which is on the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, and Sandpoint, which is on a big lake.

The Lewiston hunts went smoothly and provided youth opportunities to try the sport, Tear said. Ultimately, the hunts didn’t continue because they turned into an administrative burden.

Stapleton told city council she will submit another relocation application next year, but her understanding is that it is unlikely to be approved again because of bird flu.

Allowing hunters to harvest the geese is preferable to wasting the meat through euthanasia, Stapleton said. “This would potentially be an interim step before we even consider going to that next level.”

Tom Johnson, president of Bonner County Sportstmen’s Association, said the geese feces are a serious problem and something needed to be done.

Although he is not a goose hunter himself, Johnson said city officials asked for his input when they began discussing the plan a year ago. He wonders how effective the hunt will be in the winter, since the geese are a bigger problem in the summer.

Jane Fritz, a local activist and environmental writer who has followed the issue for the last few years, said culling the flock won’t help.

“If they get rid of these geese, more will come,” she said.

The waterfront park, with its trimmed lawn and lack of predators, is enticing to geese.

The city could have done more to deter the geese before getting to this point, Fritz said. They could have done more public outreach to locate the nests on private properties for oiling. They could let the grass grow out. And they could allow dogs in the park during the summer months.

She said the geese showed up when the city banned dogs in the park about 25 years ago.

After surveying residents and dog owners, the city changed the ordinance in 2021 to allow dogs on the pathway in the park from September to April.

But Fritz said dogs need to be allowed during the summer months when the geese introduce their young to the park.

The dog handler was ineffective, she said, because the geese learned to recognize his vehicle and he only came a few times a week. If the park had a constant, unpredictable presence of predators – even dogs on leashes – the geese would not bring their young to the park and the cycle would break.

Fritz is not against hunting. Once, she ate a Canada goose that a neighbor gave her, which she said was delicious.

The difference, she said, is that these geese have been seduced to the beach by the perfect habitat. It’s unsportsmanlike.

“They are sitting ducks,” she said.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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