Geese at Black River Park

Bird watchers enjoy seeing tiny Canadian goslings with their parents, such as this group at Black River Park in South Haven, but the large geese population that flocks at South Haven marinas and riverfront parks is not a welcome site for people who tread carefully while walking to avoid the bird droppings.

There’s no doubt that Canadian geese have become a common site in the City of South Haven, especially over the past decade or so.

You could always count on seeing geese and their little goslings at Black River Park, which locals jokingly refer to as Goose Poop Park. But, over the past decade or so a growing number of geese are spreading their wings to gather at other grassy, well-watered spots in town, including Baseline Middle School, South Haven High School, Lake Michigan College, city parks, open spaces along the southern part of Indiana Avenue, even downtown.

To be sure, the geese are cute to look at, especially when a family with young goslings can be observed. But some people, especially those unlucky enough to accidentally step in the goose droppings, are starting to become fed up with the waterfowl.

The issue even made its way to the city’s Harbor Commission this summer when member and City Councilman Steve Schlack asked what could be done to control the goose population in town.

Schlack, who owns First Choice Marina on Wells Street, said he could not even walk through the new SHOUT Park that overlooks the Black River due to the amount of goose droppings. Black River Park, located to the west of the new park, isn’t much better.

Laments about goose droppings aren’t new to South Haven nor unusual for lakeshore communities, according to Assistant City Manager and Harbor Master Griffin Graham.

“This is not a unique problem to South Haven,” he said. “Parks and marinas are attractive habitat for these urbanized geese.”

But, for those communities who want to shoo the flocks away or downsize the goose population in their locales, permanent solutions are hard to come by.

“Presently, dock hands at the (city) marinas clean off docks daily and Department of Public Works staff clean off heavily visited sidewalks one to two times a week, and other areas as time permits,” Graham said. “Additionally, a goose repellent is sprayed regularly; however, both spraying repellent and cleaning sidewalks and docks are weather dependent.”

Over the past several months, Graham and other Harbor Commission members have been studying other methods of dealing with the geese population.

Some suggestions include passing an ordinance to forbid people from feeding geese in public space; obtaining a permit from the Department of Natural Resources to conduct annual geese round-ups in designated areas of the city; hiring dog runners to periodically chase geese away from designated areas; and planting tall native grasses or vegetation near the edge of open spaces to deter geese.

But, because Canadian Geese are a protected species, methods of reducing their population are quite limited, according to Graham

“Staff learned via conversations with the DNR that we are limited in our efforts to address this problem due to Canadian Geese being protected,” Graham said. “Staff will continue to seek innovative ways to address the geese problem and clean up our public spaces as time permits. Unfortunately, strategies like population culls, dog runners, etc. are not one-time fixes, bringing the sustainability of these activities into question.”

Before further addressing methods to curb the geese population at city marinas and parks, the Harbor Commission decided to vote in September to seek input from the Parks Commission.

“Many of the areas being negatively impacted by geese, such as Riverfront Park and SHOUT Park, are in their purview too,” Graham said.