An Ecologocial Approach to Understanding Concerns over the Goose Population Control
(Source: Magnus Ekhall, Wikimedia)
A few days ago we posted an article about the practice of egg addling of Canadian Geese eggs to not only reduce the growing number of geese but to keep them moving along their migration path. This article, but more importantly the actual practice, has caused much concern among people about the welfare of the geese as well the need for humans to alter the environment for their needs. I just wanted to address these issues with an approach towards a broader topic involving ecosystems and conservation efforts.
First off, I could not agree more with the statement that humans need to chill out with reproducing. It is true we keep adjusting our carrying capacity (the number of individuals of a species which a habitat can support) and currently can only speculate what our carrying capacity will be. We have guessed in the past and have always exceeded it. And to satisfy our needs we take more and more from the environment, while developing advances which allow us to grow more in smaller areas. Reindeer are the only other noted species of animals which grew at a rate which seemingly had no carrying capacity. This occurred twice on isolated islands where they eventually depleted their food source (lichen which is a slow grower, a few centimeters a year) at a rate faster than it could be replenished. We might reach the same fate as the reindeer; however our advancements in many areas of knowledge will most likely help us in some way or another.
So as you can see, just from that simple example, there needs to be a balance between all organisms, as well as the environment, within an ecosystem for anything to survive. That being said, Canadian Geese are somewhat of an invasive species for this area. Formerly, Canadian Geese populations were much smaller, but as the forests were reduced, and I’ll address this soon, more suitable land for the geese became available and they took advantage of that. This means they are inhabiting spaces, eating food, and utilizing resources which normally would be allocated towards other organisms which traditionally live there. This, as previously stated, throws off the whole balance of the ecosystem.
It may take a vast amount of time, decades or centuries even, before an ecosystem can fully restore balance. For instance, look at the Cane Toads and European Rabbits which were introduced to Australia in 1935 and 1859, respectively. The toxicity of the cane toads kills the native species and the rabbits destroy the natural flora. Today, they are still a concern. The problem with invasive species is that they have no natural predators or means to keep their populations in check. To combat these species in Australia, they have resorted to baiting, trapping, as well as releasing a disease, Myxomatosis, to keep the rabbit population in check.
The American Chestnut (Source: Wikimedia)
But you don’t have to look overseas to find examples of invasive species. The eastern coast of America was full of American Chestnut trees. To paraphrase an old saying, it was once said that a squirrel could travel the entire Eastern coast via American Chestnuts without touching the ground. This was a climatic population, as American Chestnuts were replaced by American Chestnuts. Then, around 1900, blight, a tree disease, was brought over from Asia. It quickly spread and virtually wiped out the entire species by 1940. Today most of the tree canopies are Oaks and Poplars. This can greatly affect the population; virtually nothing enjoys or is willing to eat the leaves of the Yellow, or Tulip, Poplar. Its taste is horrific (I can confirm this based on personal experience). There was a strong conservation effort to try to eliminate the blight, but it spread too quickly. Since it only attacks the lower trunks, killing the tops of the trees, the root systems are still mostly in place and young American Chestnuts can still be spotted, however, many of them still succumb to the blight.
However, this is still not the final stage in the succession of these forests. Red Maples are the predominant understory trees waiting to take over the canopy when space arises. This is expected to happen within the next fifty years or so. Oddly enough, Red Maples were primarily confined to wetlands and swamp regions because they would be outcompeted by the American Chestnuts, elsewhere. As soon as they declined, the Red Maples expanded their territories. And it is unknown as to what trees will overtake the canopy after them. Coincidently, Gypsy moths, another invasive species, introduced to make cheap silk, quickly spread due to their ability to eat most trees, including oaks and poplars. Much like the blight, there were great efforts to eliminate these moths when they first escaped into the wild, but they, too, spread much too fast.
These seem to be mostly man-made catastrophes, and they are but not everything is. Fires and blow downs, strong winds, can severely alter forests. These can rid the areas of pre-existing vegetation, leaving the soil, allo
Yellowstone a year after the fire in 1989 (Source:Wikimedia)
wing for other vegetation to grow, in what is known as secondary succession. One famous instance happened in Yellowstone National Park a little more than a decade ago in a pine forest. After the fire, which destroyed the trees, beautiful wildflowers, which people were unaware grew in the area, sprang up. These natural causes allow for environmental cycles to occur. Additionally, Canadian Geese fall into this category. They are expanding their habitat and not entirely due to human intervention, although the lack of trees, which attracted the geese is somewhat of a byproduct of a human mistake.
To sum up my point, this program isn’t designed to slaughter Canadian Geese, despite the ideals and beliefs of some who partake in it; instead, it is to preserve the current and normally occurring environment. This is an effort to reduce the horrible impact humankind has had on the environment over the past few centuries. Keep in mind, much of this program occurs on state land, not private land, meaning it will not be developed into human used facilities, but rather continue to be maintained in its natural state. If you are truly concerned about humans negatively impacting the environment, look at those who develop property on wetlands or areas of vernal ponds, bodies of water which only last for part of the year. Despite only lasting for a few months, they are predictable as to where they form, which is normally in the same spot year after year. These are vital for amphibian development because they lay their eggs here and their tadpoles grow here without the risk of being devoured by fish. Fish cannot survive here since these ponds will only exist for moments at a time. As people develop over these seemingly “worthless” lands, many amphibian species become threatened, endangered, or even extinct.
Humans have done a lot to negatively affect the environment, but many people are now trying to make up for that. We’re not perfect, but neither is any other species. We should not be placed on a pedestal as should no other species. And saying another species should live while questioning our own proliferation, seems a bit hypocritical. The more people understand the biological processes of the world, the better people will understand the relationship between us and the rest of the world.
For the original article on egg addling, click here.