Rancher kills geese to protect horses
SNOWMASS When they heard gunshots Sunday, July 29, Rick and Lorianne Henry looked out the window of their home near Snowmass Creek to see two men with guns and two dead Canada geese floating in their neighbor’s pond.They called the Pitkin County Sheriff’s department and were told their neighbor, Holly McLane, had a permit to cull 60 geese that were threatening her livelihood.”She claimed they are predatory because the feces have E. coli in them,” Lorianne Henry said. “She’s the only person in the valley who complains about this.””We’ve got just an over-abundance,” said McLane, owner of Moon Run Ranch where she sees as many as 150 geese in her flood-irrigated fields and ponds. “I guess you could call it an infestation.”A valley resident for 33 years, McLane said when she first had summer visits from migratory Canada geese she was “happy to have ’em,” but said over the years the geese population grew and the birds stopped migrating, only going as far as golf courses in Grand Junction during winter, she said.”I love all the creatures around here, but some of the creatures are out of balance,” McLane said.And when she lost a few horses to colic last year, a veterinarian suggested it could have been caused by E. coli virus the horses ingested in the geese feces that litter her fields.”I have a real working ranch,” McLane said of the property where she trains, buys, sells and boards horses. “It’s a commercial, agricultural business. I have no choice but to generate income from my property. I’m not independently wealthy as my neighbors are.”McLane, who has commissioned two permitted hunters to kill the geese, stressed she has no plans to eliminate all the geese.”What we want to do is bring the flock to a rational number so they can live with us,” McLane said.The Henrys, who live on 130 acres adjacent to McLane’s ranch, said they also raise horses and have some geese on their property, but don’t feel the need to kill the birds.The neighbors have some bad blood dating back to confusion over a neighborhood petition against magnesium chloride, the Harveys said, but the couple is concerned.”You start aiming for a bird, you’ve got to follow them in various directions. And we are immediate neighbors,” said Mr. Henry, adding he is afraid for the safety of the couple’s young son. “It’s a safety issue and it’s a moral issue as far as I’m concerned. It’s just very, very disheartening.””I’m sympathetic to her situation, but I don’t think the solution is going and killing a bunch of geese,” Mrs. Henry said.Randy Hampton, Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman, confirmed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued McLane a special permit to kill geese. Because Canada geese are migratory, McLane needed to obtain a federal permit and did, Hampton said.”She’s authorized to kill 60 geese,” Hampton said, adding that the federal “kill permit” was not common – in fact it was the first time the DOW officer heard of someone taking advantage of it – but he said the kill permit was a provision of a federal migratory bird act.No ducking geeseAl Ogren, golf course superintendent at the Snowmass Club golf course in Snowmass Village, said he’s tried just about everything to get rid of the Canada geese that swarm the greens and fairways he maintains.Ogren once employed a friend’s Labrador retriever to chase the geese, strung fishing line across ponds to keep them off the water or chased the geese with a remote control boat and sprayed costly chemicals the birds don’t like, he said.But while he can get rid of the geese during the day, he said they always come back at night and settle back on the course in short order.”There’s no guaranteed answer. That’s the easiest thing to do is kill some. I wish I could do it. They’re so overpopulated,” Ogren said. “They’re like flying cows, they love eating grass.”In the end he decided just to live with the birds.Ogren said geese can even outsmart and out-swim the specially-trained border collies some golf course managers employ, a tactic the Henrys suggested to McLane to handle her goose problem.”I would love to have a border collie here to get the geese,” McLane said, but the $5,000 price tag on the specially-bred animals, not to mention required training in North Carolina, is too expensive, she said.And really it’s a question of the number of geese, McLane said.”City people have moved in all around. Most people don’t hunt anymore. Human beings are predators and the wildlife has no predators now,” McLane said. “In the past [the geese would] cull themselves in the long journey south, now they only migrate to Glenwood. It’s not about the killing; it’s about putting things back in balance.”McLane said the hunters use a shotgun, the safest way to kill a bird, and said all the meat is used. And since culling the first 10 birds, McLane said the geese have become “a little bit stand-offish” and the problem is getting better.”I like my neighbors. I try to do everything I can to get along. And I’m sorry this is causing problems,” McLane said. “I really just want to solve this situation the way that I’m capable of at this point.”Mrs. Henry suggested her neighbor see the documentary film “Winged Migration” about migratory birds worldwide and said, “I don’t think killing is very ethical.”Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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