Calling Foul on Culling Waterfowl
Despite this supposed safeguard, if a local entity wants to take the lives of Canada geese, an application and a verbal statement over the phone grants instant permit approval from the USDA –which killed 26,000 Canada geese last year alone.
Sometimes I find it ridiculous that I have to convince an entire city government to reconsider their plan to kill animals. What’s even more ridiculous is how long it’s taking. In July 2022, Foster City was issued a permit to kill 100 Canada geese – members of a federally protected species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The reason? Feces are “polluting the lagoon.”
In early 2022, a few residents of Foster City caught wind of this subsidized massacre and alerted the international organization In Defense of Animals, which sent out an email to its supporters. I was pissed and my immediate response was “I will protest.” I emailed IDA and asked whether a protest would garner negative publicity for them. They invited me to a conference call with Foster City residents who care about wildlife. These residents were scared and already devastated at the idea of this tragedy in their community. I was infuriated by the thought of flocks of this most loyal species (think of why fairy tales feature “Mother Goose”) being separated and many killed while survivors suffered psychological disturbance from separation anxiety, and then to know that trauma would carry into humans – both the Foster City residents experiencing the loss of their neighbors as well as those who have fought to protect geese from this cruelty in their own town. I introduced myself as Erik with Direct Action Everywhere and all six people on that call pled for protest. Shoot, game on!
A little backstory on Foster City and the geese who settled there:
About 60 years ago, an island at the eastern shore of San Mateo County was converted into a city. Humans replaced the marshes with landfill, built bridges and in 1971 Foster City was established. Around this same time in history, Canada geese were on the brink of extinction due to overhunting. When the Illinois Natural History Survey found a flock in Minnesota, they were captured, experimentally bred, and placed under “federal protection” under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Despite this supposed safeguard, if a local entity wants to take the lives of Canada geese, an application and a verbal statement over the phone grants instant permit approval from the USDA –which killed 26,000 Canada geese last year alone.
Side note: As someone pursuing nursing as a career, I can’t help but contrast this with my own experience with government regulations: For me to save lives, I had to pay for two background checks, provide bodily fluid to someone who watched me urinate and had temporary possession of my belongings, go into debt with the federal government, and do two years of school and clinical assignments so rigorous I had to be hospitalized at one point due to sleep deprivation from studying til 2am and then having to be up at 4am for clinicals, my immune system suppressed and contracted subacute thyroiditis.And I’m STILL not a registered nurse yet!
More recent history: In the summer of 2021, Heal the Bay, a magazine based in Santa Monica, released their “Beach Bummers” list of the most polluted beaches in California. Foster City held the #2, #4, and #8 positions on the list. Ashamed, the mayor and city council decided someone had to pay for this. Beach #2 and beach #4 are 500 feet apart, obviously sharing the same water quality, but all three of these beaches are not ocean-facing beaches with tidal-powered water circulation. They are plots of sand on a human-made lagoon designed as a basin for runoff. Pollution collects at the beach and gets stuck there. Days after the shame list was released, the city council announced the Healthy Waters, Healthy Parks initiative, ostensibly to clean up the polluted lagoon. Part of this initiative was the “geese mitigation plan,” which included killing a federally protected species. On October 13, 2021, Foster City’s migratory bird permit application was approved, allowing them to move to the next step: obtaining a “depredation” permit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (depredation: to lay waste or plunder). When USFWS issues permits, the USDA Wildlife Services’ kill method is horribly cruel and should be illegal. Every summer, geese molt off their flight feathers and grow in a beautiful new set. They cannot fly during molt, and Wildlife Services takes advantage of that vulnerability. In the middle of the night, they secretly stroll into town and proceed to round up those who can’t fly and massacre them in a portable gas chamber in the back of their truck, in which they will die slowly and painfully from a lethal administration of carbon dioxide and argon. This is real. And we’re paying for it with our tax dollars.
I don’t use violent imagery. Although vital in animal rights history, I can’t handle animals in pain very well. But also, people instinctually look away from something they don’t want to see. I don’t want people to look away, I want them to see and learn and understand the brutal truths animals endure worldwide. So, for the protest, I decided to build a mock goose roundup including method of massacre, temporary construction fencing with a smoke machine and “dead geese” inside, in front of city hall during the city council meeting on May 17th. It didn’t have to be graphic to be compelling.I began making signs and designing the makeshift roundup enclosure. A few days before the protest, IDA asked whether they could put out a press release to invite the media. That’s when things started getting busy.
News reporters began calling to ask questions about the issue, trying to decide if this was a story or not. I realized I had an opportunity to expose the USDA’s annual massacre tour if I could do three things:
1) Sell a story: Use quick, jarring, fact-based sentences.“Feds come at night when no one is watching and stuff geese who can’t fly into an airtight box, then pump in a lethal amount of carbon dioxide.”
2) See what sticks:
Reporter: “Sounds like a gas chamber…”
Me: “True – but that term could be triggering to some and I don’t want to bring up the Holocaust… geese die a slow, painful death by suffocation that can last four to five minutes, during which family members and friends die one by one around them.”
Reporter: “Kind of like a gas chamber?”
Me: “Fine, yes, it’s a gas chamber, and we are paying for it!”
3) Sell myself: That is, sell my morals. I was beginning to use a term I didn't want to use. “Gas chambers” – understandably very sensitive for the Jewish community and an instant reminder of one of the biggest atrocities in the history of humankind. I also started to sensationalize the story because journalists would stop and have me repeat an emotion-tugging one-liner, like my answer to “What is it that brought you to save the geese?”
Me: “One of my earliest memories is feeding geese and ducks with my grandmother, who passed away last year.”
Reporter: “Tell me more. Actually, repeat what you just said and then tell me more.”
Me: “Yeah, and she’d probably be supporting me from home – saying, “Dile a esos pendejos (Spanish: tell those assholes) to leave the geese alone!”
May 17, 2022: Every single local news station – KTVU2, KRON4, KPIX5, ABC7 – had a presence as more than 50 people showed up – some having learned by word of mouth on Nextdoor, some activists with Direct Action Everywhere – to tell city council one thing: “LET THE GEESE LIVE!” With a message so clear, we walked into the council meeting with reporters in tow holding our signs making sure they understood- We, the majority, demand our tax dollars not be spent on unnecessary killing of the vulnerable.
And we continue to call foul! We have continued to have a presence at every Foster City council meeting, whether in person or via Zoom. As long as there’s a plan to kill, there’s a plan to protest and we aren’t going anywhere until our geese friends aren’t threatened by a killer council who can’t think with compassion and common sense. Every week, I get emails, calls and text messages from dozens of Foster City residents wanting to defend wildlife, from activists around the country who have dealt with goose roundups themselves, from animal protection organizations offering resources and expert advice, from politicians who advise me how to go about this issue beyond animal rights, and from people who never even thought about activism before but now fiercely telling a mayor to their face, “You are wrong!”
I might be the organizer, but this is a family. I have made deep friendships with people from all walks of life. I want to start shouting people out but there 100 people fighting with me (who may even be reading this now) and their names will be immortalized on a plaque because each person involved is equally as important as me – without them, I’m just a geese guy with a sign.
...to be continued because we must continue since their lives depend on it…
Let the geese live, forever