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Cohasset

Golf Club taking lethal aim at geese

Golfers have long had to share courses with Canada geese.

George Rizer/Globe Staff/File 1998

Golfers have long had to share courses with Canada geese.

The exclusive Cohasset Golf Club definitely isn’t offering memberships to the flocks of Canada geese wintering in this toney coastal town: The private club is shooting them instead.

A few neighbors have complained about the goose hunting, but it is perfectly legal, as long as the shooters stay 150 feet away from a street and 500 feet from a dwelling, according to acting police chief William Quigley. The club has a “depredation” permit from the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, which allows it to shoot a small number of the birds daily for a limited time beyond the normal hunting season.

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Only “resident” Canada geese — the ones that don’t migrate — are fair game, police said. Those are the ones still hanging around this time of year in the hundreds.

“For some reason, [they] lose their instinct to migrate, and they hang around and cause a lot of property damage and health issues [from their excrement]. It’s pretty disgusting,” Quigley said.

The 122-acre Cohasset Golf Club, which was established in 1894, has been tangling with a Canada goose problem for years, according to longtime member John Englander, who lives next to the golf course on Lamberts Lane.

The birds are “very messy, they interfere with play, and they ruin the course,” he said.

The geese, which weigh 10 to 14 pounds, each produce from half a pound to a pound and a half of droppings per day, according to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, or MassWildlife. Multiply that by the estimated tens of thousands of resident Canada geese in the state and that’s a lot of goose dung.

“Canada geese are a big problem on the East Coast,” said Peggy Labonte, who issues the depredation permits in the Northeast for the Fish and Wildlife Service. While permits issued in the state of Virginia tend to be for vultures, and Connecticut focuses on woodpeckers, the main nuisance bird in Massachusetts is the Canada goose, she said.

The number of permits in Massachusetts varies but usually is about 75 to 80 a year, according to Tom French, assistant director of MassWildlife, which is involved with the program. The permits are given to protect property and public safety and health, with airports getting permission to take out the largest numbers of birds, he said.

“Everybody knows birds can take an airplane down,” French said, adding that a 1960 fatal crash at Logan Airport caused by a bird-strike helped inspire the federal depredation program.

Besides airports, major water supplies such as the Quabbin Reservoir have permits to cut down on contamination from bird poop, as well as many golf courses and farms, he said.

Labonte said permits are given to protect humans’ well-being, as well as health, since the nesting birds can “be quite aggressive and can do some damage. We had one nesting in a planter next to the door of a restaurant and it chased everyone going in and out.”

The wildfowl also devour farmers’ seed and seedlings, particularly enjoying young cranberry plants, French said.

Labonte said she sometimes feels sorry for the geese. “They’re only doing what geese do. They don’t realize that children can’t go in a pond if [the geese] poop all over it. But I also feel sorry for the people who can’t go swim, or who get some disease,” she said.

The federal agency won’t issue a permit until an applicant shows they’ve tried to scare the geese away and “done what they could to make their property unattractive to the geese,” she said.

“And they have to have a no-feeding policy. They can’t feed them, because that’s not fair,” she added.

The typical permit only allows a limited number of geese to be shot — usually about 10 percent of a flock — with the hope that the rest of the birds will find someplace less dangerous to congregate.

“All we’re trying to do is scare them off,” Labonte said.

There has been pushback, though. The Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese, for example, formed in 1993 in response to a plan to kill geese in Rockland County, N.Y. The group dedicated itself to protecting geese there and serving as a resource to other communities “whose geese are being vilified and targeted for extermination,” according to the organization’s website.

Locally, some places swear by less than lethal tactics.

“My 4-year-old black lab, Rodney, is my solution,” said Jim Dion, superintendent of the public Rockland Golf Course. “He chases [the geese] and they’re terrified of him. We used to have a terrible problem — the goose poop was everywhere —but it’s not a problem now.”

Dion said the hunting option was discussed at a recent meeting of golf course superintendents, but he didn’t want “someone walking around the golf course with a gun.”

In Cohasset, Englander said his club tried several remedies, including a dog trained to chase geese, before resorting to bringing in hunters. While police say some residents were concerned about gunshots, Englander says it doesn’t bother him.

“I know what’s going on and why,” he said.

Gail Devins, owner of Shoo, Geese! Border Patrol in Easton, uses three border collies — Fergie, Tug, and Millie — to chase Canada geese away from about 10 locations south of Boston. Her clients include Stonehill College, the Easton Country Club, a cemetery in Canton, Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School in Taunton, and the youth soccer field at Easton’s Oliver Ames High School. Her dogs also patrol the area around Lake Massapoag for the town of Sharon, she said.

“The border collie resembles the natural predator to the Canada goose, an Arctic fox, so this naturally puts fear into the geese,” Devins said. “The good news is the PETA [animal rights] people approve of this method because the dogs are herding the geese and don’t hurt them.

“People have tried all kinds of things — fake coyotes, balloons, stuff you put on the grass to make it taste bad — but the geese are on to it,” she said.

Prime time for getting rid of the geese is early February through March, before the birds lay their eggs, Devins said.

“You have to convince each flock that this is a dangerous place,” she said.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.
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