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As Canada Goose Populations Recover, Northwest Farmers Pay The Price

Seven different subspecies of the Canada geese travel along a metaphorical superhighway, called the Pacific Flyway, from summer nesting grounds in Alaska down into Washington, Oregon and California.

About twenty years ago, the cackling geese stopped migrating to California and instead started stopping for the winter in Oregon. This greatly increased the pressure on agriculture in the Northwest. And there’s very little farmers can do about it.

Marie and Joe Gadotti are sick of the geese.

“I have my own pet name for them,” says Marie. “They’re flying rats.”

“Typically, you would have been coming down here and seeing three different colors of green. The peas are one color. The wheat is one color. Now we just have these blank fields,” says Marie.

Beginning in fall and running through early spring, cackling Canada geese migrate to Oregon and Washington by the hundreds of thousands. They go where they good stuff is – newly planted fields - and mow down young tender grasses.

Joe Gadotti is an expert as spotting the flocks of Geese in the low orchard grass in the distance. At this moment, there’s probably 2000 birds dining at the Gadotti salad bar. The birds are likely a mix of migratory and residents, geese that have stopped flying north and live locally year-round.

Joe turns the truck toward the gaggle on the ground, trying to scare them off. The birds rise by the air in cacophonous complaint. They form defined groups in the air, and fly off into the distance.

“See how we go up here, the shorter it gets, how they’ve worked it down,” Joe says.

The grass will come back if the geese let it, but this creates problems on the harvest end.

“It will come back, any your yield will be greatly reduced. You will have different heights of grass out here - you’re gonna have tall stuff, short stuff… You’re going to have different states of maturity,” Marie says.

“And what we’ve just accomplished is chased them to another field somewhere.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, a group that monitors wildlife populations, categorizes cackling Canada geese as a species of “least concern” as far as conservation priority. But while cackling geese numbers are high, dusky and Aleutian Canada geese haven’t made such a robust comeback.

“If you want to stop a decline in one, but you still desire a hunting season to curb the growth in another, it becomes really difficult,” Reishus says. “Because to most people, a Canada goose is still a Canada goose.”

When hunting isn’t allowed Joe and Marie Gadotti instead shoots firecracker shells into the air to scare the geese away. And that’s not all. Strings of flags like the ones used by car dealerships, cutouts of coyotes and eagles, and Farmer Fred.

“Farmer Fred was a seven foot tall cut-out, plywood of a person with a raincoat on,” says Marie. “It took an act of Congress to get him out there because he’s seven foot tall and he doesn’t blow over.”

The Gadottis have stopped planting most of their land in the fall, instead focusing their efforts in spring. This means more work has to get done in a shorter amount of time. Goose patrols will also have to kick into high gear.

“Every day there’s a bird there, you’d better be there,” says Marie.

Overall the Gadottis estimate the geese cost them $60,000 dollars each year.

Reishus, who will represent Oregon during that process, says the first order of business is figuring out whether that target minimum populations should be lowered.

The process will not be a quick one. It will start by bringing all the stakeholders together: farmers who want the geese gone and then hunters, Native Alaskans, bird enthusiasts and conservationists who generally want to see the population increase to more historic levels.

After a population goal is set, then the group will tackle issues like hunting seasons, goose habitat and food sources, the possibility of farmer compensation and conservation easements, and how and if all the subspecies of Canada geese should be managed the same (something farmers have called for in the past).

“To know how many geese are here, you count ‘em all. You don’t separate the species out and say we only have 250 of this and we only have 250 of that. By the time you get done, you have 600,000 of something. That’s what you have to manage for," she say.

After years of looking for relief, Marie and Joe find it difficult to envision a time when geese don’t dominate their farming decisions.

“It should not be up to us as farmers to try to feed these birds,” says Marie.

Copyright 2020 EarthFix. To see more, visit .

Some of the thousands of Canada Geese making their winter home in Oregon's Willamette Valley
Jes Burns/OPB /
Some of the thousands of Canada Geese making their winter home in Oregon's Willamette Valley

Jes Burns is a reporter for OPB's Science & Environment unit. Jes has a degree in English literature from Duke University and a master's degree from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communications.