Mountain View Voice

Opinion - June 17, 2011

Geese drop a big bogey at Shoreline links

No one has an exact date of when Canada geese flew into Shoreline Park and set up shop on the golf course and other grassy areas.

But we doubt if anyone in city government at the time had the faintest idea of what an intractable problem the geese would bring to the golf links, which are plagued by the run-away population of geese, coots and their ubiquitous droppings.

Last week a frustrated city administration asked and received permission from the City Council to spend $350,000 to fill in three small ponds with 115,000 cubic yards of dirt on the Shoreline course, taking away the water hazards and in the process, closing down a favorite attraction for the birds.

Oddly, filling the ponds will help alleviate another city bird problem — the disappearing burrowing owls — which need just the kind of habitat the city proposes to create when the lakes are filled. The owls present the opposite problem: their small Shoreline flock has diminished in recent years to just about a dozen individuals. It is hoped mice and insects will be attracted to the rocks, pieces of wood, plants and grass that will be installed in the dirt filling the lakes, giving the owls more of a reason to stay.

The plan to fill in the lakes follows many other efforts to rid Shoreline of the geese, including remote-control boats, fake alligator heads, laser beams, a geese-chasing border collie, and a liquid that was sprayed on the grass that, in theory, would trigger a vomiting reflex in the geese and cause them to leave.

Last year, a partial combination of these remedies was said to reduce the coot population substantially, from 5,200 to 2,200, but even 2,000 birds can create a huge sanitation problem for golfers trying to play a round without running into a mass of droppings.

One golfer told the Voice last year, "You're walking through it all the time. It's on your shoes and on your ball. If you're playing by the rules, you hit it with poop on it."

All of this action comes as the city is preparing to assess whether a private operator or city employees could stop the losses at the golf links, which are estimated to be $600,000 over the next six months and possibly $1.2 million for the year, although Interim City Manager Melissa Stevenson Dile doesn't expect losses to reach that amount. If a private contractor was chosen to manage the course, up to 11 city employees could lose their jobs, unless the contractor hired them back.

Whatever the City Council decides, it will not be easy for a private contractor or the city to operate the golf links profitably until the geese and coot population is substantially reduced. We can't imagine golfers having a quality experience otherwise.

The city's plan to drain the lakes and create new habitat for the burrowing owls is a good one. With less open water near the course, it is possible that at least some birds will find another home.

But realistically, even this $350,000 effort is not likely to clear out all of the birds, which we expect will continue to make their home at Shoreline, whether the city likes it or not. And if the birds remain, will the golfers continue to slog through the droppings? It could take much more than filling a few ponds to return the Shoreline Golf Links back to the popular and profitable level the city enjoyed before the geese and coots landed.

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