GRIP impacting goose population
The program coordinator calls for volunteers for golf courses and creek banks.
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.
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.