See more of the story

Too many geese and too much poop are stirring up controversy in Rochester these days over how best to control the city's beloved goose population.

The town has long embraced the flocks of resident Canada geese that wander its riverfront and parks long after the migratory geese wing out of town. But an overabundance of goose feces that slicks up trails, dirties playgrounds and beaches and contaminates water prompted city officials to take action this spring to reduce the number of goslings that will hatch.

Over the past two weeks, a private company hired by the city and a group of recruited volunteers have roamed four local parks searching for goose eggs to slather in corn oil, which cuts off the oxygen supply needed for a gosling to develop.

Following protocols set by the Humane Society of the United States, only eggs that are within 14 days of gestation are treated because it's believed the organism inside doesn't yet experience pain, said Paul Widman, Rochester's director of parks and recreation.

Eggs that rise or float in a bucket of water indicate a developing embryo and are returned to the nest to be hatched, he said. Treated eggs also are returned to the nest because if they weren't, the geese would lay more.

After the normal 28 days of gestation, volunteers destroy the treated eggs so that the mother geese still on the nests can move on.

Critics of the oiling have been quick to light up social media, shaming city officials for interfering with nature.

"Disgusting. The City of Rochester should be ashamed," said one Facebook post.

"I hope those geese attack them when they go near the eggs," said another.

Proponents, however, have been just as quick to defend the city.

"To all the people that are so upset about this. Take the time to go down there with shovels, wheel barrows. … clean up the massive amounts of feces on a regular basis," one poster wrote.

City Council Member Kelly Kirkpatrick said this week that crows flocking downtown in winter are a bigger problem than the geese.

"They roost in the trees downtown and all night long they're pooing," she said. "It's absolutely everywhere and it stinks."

Sure, she added, there's also a goose problem in town, "but we need data to track it for a couple of years. I want to know how much of a problem it is and where."

Megan Mathis, 34, who was among a few dozen people protesting the egg oiling taking place Wednesday, said population control isn't necessary because she sees fewer geese in Rochester than a decade ago.

"I don't think nature should be messed with," she said. "Rochester for so long made this place the home for these geese and now they're pushing them away and killing them. They're going out of their way to kill these mothers' babies. That's not OK. I feel like pretty soon there isn't going to be geese here."

The city, however, has no intention of eliminating all its geese, Widman said.

"Once we strike a balance, we can back off," he said.

Over the years, the city has received a steady stream of complaints about what the big birds leave behind.

A goose poops every 12 minutes, Widman said, meaning an adult goose drops 1½ to 2 pounds of excrement a day.

"So 50 geese produce 18¼ tons of poop a year, and we have a lot more than 50 geese," he said.

The feces contaminate lakes and force beaches to close, create slick and slippery trails for bikers and mess up park and picnic grounds, prompting some picnic-goers to bring shovels to clean up the mess before they sit down, Widman said.

Joel Dunnette, president of the Zumbro Valley Audubon Society and longtime Rochester resident, said it's unclear how many resident geese are wandering the city in the spring and summer.

"Probably more than we've had in many, many years," he said. "There's a balance to be had. We need to manage the numbers that are here."

And treating eggs to prevent a hatch seems "a fair effort," Dunnette said. "If you want to say something better should be done, then come up with a better way."

Misinformation about the city's management efforts likely has fueled the social media firestorm, Widman said. Along with Humane Society protocols, the city received the necessary permits from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he noted.

"Most cities take measures to control their goose population," he said. "We are one of the few cities of this size that didn't."

Tom Keefe, owner of Canada Goose Management in Chatfield, Minn., is hired by golf courses, homeowner associations, corporations and about 40 Minnesota cities — and now Rochester — to help control goose populations. That's an about-face for someone who once helped restore populations of giant Canada geese that had been decimated.

After graduating from college with a wildlife management degree in 1976, Keefe got a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and helped rear goslings to be released into the wild.

Those restoration efforts were successful, he said. "Maybe a little too successful," he added.

Eventually, some cities had too many geese. For example, in 1982, some geese at Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis were rounded up and shipped to other states. But by the mid-1990s, relocation wasn't an option.

"No one wanted them," Keefe said. "That's when we captured them and sent them to processing plants to be donated to food shelves."

The summer roundups, which occur when the geese are briefly flightless, along with treating eggs to reduce the hatch, are the primary methods of reducing the bird's population, he said.

The concerns he has heard in Rochester are similar to those expressed in the Twin Cities in the 1990s. Eventually, Twin Cities residents accepted the need to control the population because of health concerns about droppings, Keefe said.

"We don't want to eliminate geese," he said. "I frankly love geese. But too much of anything isn't good. It's a delicate balance."

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788