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Editorial: Finally, tough action being taken on our geese

The need for a plan is apparent. Somewhere between 3,500 and 7,000 geese now overwinter in the capital region.
A Canada goose swims in Esquimalt Lagoon on Jan. 9, 2023. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The Capital Regional District is asking voters in the region for feedback on a draft plan to manage the Canada goose population. The plan would include addling eggs and culling some portion of the adults.

The need for a plan is apparent. Somewhere between 3,500 and 7,000 geese now overwinter in the capital region.

The impact on local farms can devastating. The birds wipe out whole fields, with crop losses up to 100 per cent in some cases. They damage or wreck salmon habitat in tidal streams, and pollute lakes with tonnes of droppings.

Moreover the goose population is rapidly expanding. The CRD estimates that the number of geese in the region doubles every 4.3 years. Clearly this is not sustainable.

At that point, though, serious obstacles arise. First, under the terms of the Community Charter, the CRD must gain consent for its Goose Management Plan. There are three ways of doing this.

The plan could be referred to the region’s 13 municipal councils, but that would necessitate a unanimous vote of approval — perhaps unlikely.

Second, a referendum could be held, but that would be expensive.

Third, the matter can be put to an online vote. This is the option the CRD has chosen, but the methodology, imposed by the Community Charter and designed for entirely different circumstances, has problems.

Bizarrely, using this solution, only residents who oppose the scheme are allowed to vote on it. Those who might support it have no voice.

And if just 10 per cent vote no, the plan is placed on hold.

Residents who wish to register their opposition have until Monday to do so. A form is provided for this purpose on the CRD website.

Given the contentious nature of the project, 10 per cent is a very low bar. Animal rights groups must be expected to organize opposition, and such a small nay vote may not present much of a challenge.

Of course a lot depends on the extent of the proposed cull. And here a further difficulty arises.

So far, the CRD has remained silent on this essential point, perhaps because the plan is still a work in progress.

Nevertheless, numbers matter. In 2015 the CRD was authorized to cull 250 geese, but killed only 43. Figures this low will have no effect whatsoever on the rapidly expanding population.

If the number of geese resident in the capital region doubles every 4.3 years, then it would be necessary to cull more than 1,000 every year just to keep the population constant.

To actually reduce the flock would require a much heavier cull, perhaps 2,000 or more a year.

Is this realistic? Practically speaking, perhaps. But is it politically doable?

There seems no doubt that CRD chair Colin Plant is on board for some form of far-reaching solution. He’s said that if nothing is done, the problem will only get worse.

But can he carry his board in the face of what may be fierce public opposition? Can he carry all 13 municipalities in the region with him?

It may be the only way forward is for the province to circumvent the Charter and grant the CRD whatever authority is required to control the goose population.

That would take considerable courage.

This is one of those occasions when local politicians have a very narrow line to walk. Their only comfort must lie in the knowledge that it was by continually putting off tough measures that we found ourselves in this position to begin with.

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