GRIP im­pact­ing goose pop­u­la­tion

The pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor calls for vol­un­teers for golf cour­ses and creek banks.

The Weekly Vista - - News - LYNN ATKINS latkins@nwadg.com

A train­ing ses­sion was held last week for GRIP vol­un­teers and or­ga­niz­ers are ex­pect­ing an­other successful year.

GRIP — the acro­nym for goose re­pro­duc­tion in­ter­ven­tion pro­gram — is one way Bella Vista is deal­ing with the is­sue of res­i­dent Canada geese. Iron­i­cally, geese are a pro­tected species that was in dan­ger of ex­tinc­tion a few years ago. Some Canada geese were in­tro­duced into ar­eas where there are few nat­u­ral preda­tors and did not mi­grate — but they did re­pro­duce.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port writ­ten by former Lake Bi­ol­o­gist Dar­rell Bow­man, the geese cause prob­lems in sev­eral ar­eas. Geese fe­ces are slip­pery, cre­at­ing a safety is­sue in grassy ar­eas, on boat docks and on park­ing lots. It also con­tains bac­te­ria that can leave Bella Vista lakes un­healthy for swim­ming. Golf balls and fish­ing tackle also be­come con­tam­i­nated, putting the peo­ple who han­dle them at risk.

The POA spends money on cleanup, with Lake Rangers clean­ing boat launches of­ten. Many mem­bers clean their own docks and pa­tios as well.

In 2008, Bow­man pre­sented a plan to reg­u­late the goose pop­u­la­tion that had three parts. First, he sug­gested stop­ping the feed­ing of geese and both the city and the POA passed those reg­u­la­tions.

Bow­man also rec­om­mended re­duc­ing the pop­u­la­tion with an an­nual round up. Fed­eral per­mits were ap­plied for and a spe­cific num­ber of geese were cap­tured dur­ing moult­ing sea­son. Bow­man was able to send the geese to a pro­cess­ing plant where they would be eu­th­a­nized and pro­cessed. The meat was then do­nated through an or­ga­ni­za­tion that sends game meat to food banks.

Re­cently Parks and Lakes Su­per­in­ten­dent Rich Echols said that it’s been dif­fi­cult to find a nearby pro­ces­sor who will take the geese.

But one com­po­nent of the pro­gram has been work­ing well since 2009 — the vol­un­teer egg oil­ing pro­gram.

This year Kevin At­tle­son will co­or­di­nate about 25 vol­un­teers, in­clud­ing many vol­un­teers from pre­vi­ous years.

Each vol­un­teer receives a ge­o­graphic as­sign­ment and a spray bot­tle filled with cook­ing oil. When they lo­cate a nest, they cover each egg with oil and leave it in the nest. The geese don’t re­al­ize their eggs will never hatch, so they con­tinue to care for the nest through the end of the sea­son. If the eggs were re­moved, the fe­male goose would build a new nest and lay more eggs.

The egg-oil­ing sea­son lasts only a few weeks from mid-March to the end of April. Vol­un­teers are asked to go out about once a week. Of­ten, they re­turn to the nests and oil the eggs a sec­ond time, just in case.

In 2009, vol­un­teers found 34 nests and oiled 141 eggs. In 2011, vol­un­teers got per­mis­sion to work around Lake Bella Vista which is part of the Ben­tonville Parks Sys­tem. That year they found 51 nests and oiled 231 eggs.

By 2016, there was a marked de­crease in geese nest­ing in Bella Vista. Last year vol­un­teers lo­cated 13 nests and oiled 60 eggs.

But the geese seemed to be find­ing ways to hide their nests. That’s known be­cause 22 goslings were sighted after the nest­ing sea­son ended. Those goslings are now part of the goose pop­u­la­tion. If they mi­grate, they’ll re­turn to Bella Vista to lay their own eggs.

Bill Davis, a vol­un­teer with the pro­gram, told the Lakes Com­mit­tee that there are enough vol­un­teers to cover the lakes in Bella Vista, but the golf cour­ses need at­ten­tion. Geese nest along the creek that runs through sev­eral cour­ses and it can be dif­fi­cult to re­cruit vol­un­teers will­ing to walk the rough ter­rain of the creek bank.

On the Kingswood and Berks­dake cour­ses, one spe­cial vol­un­teer is help­ing keep the goose pop­u­la­tion down.

Reed Holly, Kingswood/ Berks­dale golf main­te­nance su­per­in­ten­dent, said there used to be more than 100 geese on the two cour­ses five or six years ago. That meant his staff spent time clean­ing up the fair­ways and greens. But all that was be­fore he in­tro­duced Bolt.

Bolt is not an acro­nym for a pro­gram, or the name of an ex­otic chem­i­cal. Bolt is the name of a dog. Holly said he bought Bolt to po­lice the cour­ses, al­though he has also be­come a fam­ily pet. Bolt s a five-year-old Bor­der col­lie that goes to work with Holly ev­ery day.

Bor­der col­lies need a job, Holly ex­plained. They are high-energy dogs that can be­come de­struc­tive if they don’t have something to do. When Holly got Bolt, he was in train­ing to be a cat­tle dog like his par­ents. He didn’t need any ad­di­tional train­ing to be­come a golf course dog. He has the in­stinct to chase, but he doesn’t have the in­stinct to kill. He re­turns to Holly when he’s called, even if he’s chas­ing a squir­rel.

Ev­ery morn­ing, when Holly is check­ing the two cour­ses, Bolt runs after the golf cart. It’s an 11-mile run so even if there are no geese in the area, Bolt gets his ex­er­cise. If he sees a goose, he’ll chase it, but he won’t kill it. The geese no longer nest in Bolt’s ter­ri­tory.

Later in the day, Bolt rides along on the pas­sen­ger seat of the cart and will stay ex­actly where he’s told to stay. He knows he’s not al­lowed on the greens and if Holly is us­ing a sprayer, he stays out of the way, Holly said.

There are no longer any geese on Holly’s two cour­ses. Once in a while, they stop and chase the geese off the Coun­try Club course, he said, but they sel­dom get out to the other golf cour­ses.

Work­ing to­gether, vol­un­teers and POA staff have im­pacted the num­ber of geese in Bella Vista, but they all know it’s a con­tin­u­ing project.

Lynn Atkins/The Weekly Vista

Bolt, a five-year-old Bor­der col­lie, pa­trols the Kingswood and Berks­dale golf cour­ses ev­ery morn­ing look­ing for geese. He doesn’t kill the geese, but he chases them off the course, sav­ing hours of clean up work for the staff. Bolt be­longs to the cour­ses' main­te­nance su­per­in­ten­dent Reed Holly.

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