After 484 Canada geese were killed in Parksville last year in a controversial cull, another thinning of the flock may be required next year, city council learned last week.
John Cooper, president of the Guardians of the Mid-Island Estuaries Society, provided Parksville city council a report during its Sept. 6 meeting, reviewing the society’s work over the past year and sharing its goals for the coming year.
Since the 2016 goose cull in Parksville, Cooper said, carex and other native grasses have returned to the Englishman River estuary after foraging by the invasive geese had decimated the vegetation.
“I think we need to reduce the (population) further, probably another 50 per cent from what it is now,” Cooper said. “The cull in 2016 had an immediate impact, we can see anecdotally in estuary plants growing where they were not growing before. This tells me this is what we need to do.”
Since the June 26, 2016 cull of Canada geese, a non-native species introduced to Vancouver Island for hunting, the Guardians of the Mid-Island Estuaries Society and its partner groups have performed two other culls — the removal of 100 birds from the Little Qualicum River estuary and a 950-goose cull in Campbell River, said Cooper.
“We’re hoping by keeping the numbers down, we can restore the estuaries to their former glory.”
The 2016 cull followed a five-year study by the Guardians, partially funded by the City of Parksville and begun in 2011. Years of addling eggs to prevent goslings from hatching, Cooper said, failed to reduce the local population of Canada Geese.
When council approved and funded the 2016 cull to the tune of $35,000 — of which $12,000 was contributed by the Regional District of Nanaimo — it was met with a vigorous response from both supporters and protesters. One protest of the Parksville cull even sprang up in Victoria among supporters of the birds.
“I remember very vividly you coming to council for money to carry on these studies,” Mayor Marc Lefebvre told Cooper. “Myself and some of the councillors were irritated at the time because we knew the number of birds, we knew the estuary looked like a moonscape and we were questioning, ‘Why wait?’
“But I’m glad we waited, because after that was done I got some very interesting phone calls.”
During last week’s meeting, Parksville councillors seemed sold on the results, particulary after seeing a slideshow Cooper presented indicating vegetation is returning to the Englishman River estuary.
“I know this is difficult because it’s been controversial,” Coun. Leanne Salter said. “We’re never going to be getting everyone to agree with it. But it’s a great way to take care of a problem that was created by people in the first place. People brought (the geese) here, they took off, and now we’re having to deal with the end result of that.”
Volunteers counted 75 nests in 2014, 74 nests in 2015 and 72 nests in 2016, before the cull. This year that number dropped to 26 nests, said Cooper.
“When you came forward with the ultimate solution, I fully supported it,” Coun. Sue Powell told Cooper. “And if we need to go further, to say, half the number we have, I support that as well. When I saw photos of damage to the estuary, I thought it was irreversable.”
Cooper told council the Guardians’ plans for 2018 include a potential second cull from the Little Englishman River estuary, and “possibly Craig Bay.”
The Guardians have also teamed with partners and stakeholders to form a Vancouver Island regional Canada goose working group, which earlier this year created a draft memorandum of understanding on a regional goose management strategy, Cooper said. The working group next meets Oct. 5, at which time it plans to finalize the MOU, he added.