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Denver announces catch-and-kill goose round up to make food for families in need

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City Park was quiet — too quiet.

“It’s like a morgue. It’s empty,” said Linda Gallegos, 56. There was no flapping of wings, no hissing, and no Canada geese during her evening walk Monday.

Hours earlier, federal crews had herded hundreds of the birds out of the crown-jewel park and on toward their doom.

For the first time, the city of Denver and federal authorities are capturing and killing large numbers of the large bird. Up to 2,200 geese will be culled from the city’s parks this summer under a newly authorized program, and their carcasses are being cooked and served by an anonymous organization for families in need.

The city estimates some 5,000 geese live in Denver year-round, chowing down on bluegrass and handout bread near Denver’s shallow lakes. Many thousands more stop by during their winter north-south migration. And, across the state, goose populations have soared since the 1970s — multiplying sixfold in some cases.

“We’re not trying to get rid of all the geese in the city. We’re just trying to manage to a more healthy population in the parks system,” said Scott Gilmore, deputy parks director.

A single Canada gosling can grow well over 10 pounds and might deposit a full pound of poop each day. It’s enough to cause blooms of algae and waves of complaints, according to parks leadership.

The city has tried gentler control methods over the last 15 years. The remote-controlled Goosinator machines have terrified countless birds. City workers have slathered oil on thousands of eggs, preventing new births.

But it hasn’t been enough. Some birds have moved into neighborhoods, seeming to hide from city crews, Gilmore said.

In the past, the state has even hauled Denver birds to other counties and states — but nobody wants them anymore. And still the flocks keep growing.

“We’ve created the perfect environment for geese,” said Gilmore, a wildlife biologist by training.

So, this year, the city and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are getting lethal. The USDA is supervising the roundup of hundreds of birds from various parks in early-morning operations. They’re targeting the resident birds, not the migratory flocks. The operations are leaving behind just a few dozen birds at each location, especially juveniles that will discourage other birds from moving in.

Animal rights advocates have said the killings are cruel and unnecessary, especially at a time when birds are molting and unable to fly.

“There were all these little families of geese walking through the park. They rounded up all of those, and they killed them all,” said Gallegos, who lives near City Park. “They won’t say how they were killed, if it was done in a humane way.”

Indeed, Gilmore said he does not know exactly how the geese are being killed. A USDA official didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but the agency told Denverite that the culling follows American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines, which allow death by gunshots, injections and gas.

Ironically, humans may have brought this upon themselves. White settlers likely destroyed the original populations of local geese. By the 1950s, there were only “very low numbers” of resident geese in Eastern Colorado, according to a state plan.

Starting in the late ’50s, the state introduced Canada geese into the northern Front Range, especially around Fort Collins, and later transplanted them around the state. As the population boomed, state regulators allowed more hunting. Roughly 100,000 geese were harvested in Colorado in 2017, according to state data.

Denver is not the first city to kill its goslings. Governments from New York City to Madison, Wisconsin, have culled them. But Colorado’s capital is attracting lots of attention for its new efforts — enough that parks managers are receiving threats online and via voicemail, Gilmore said.

“We’re probably one of the largest cities west of the Mississippi that’s ever done this,” he said.

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