SARANAC LAKE - Saranac Lake Central School District officials are looking for other ways to rid their athletic fields of geese as some say the goose poop problem this year is the worst they've ever seen it.
"This is the first time in my 26 years here that I would deem the (high school practice football) field totally unusable," district Athletic Director Mark Farmer told the school board Wednesday. "It is a goose poop soup out there."
At times in the last few weeks, Farmer said he's counted up to 100 geese on that field and the athletic field in the center of the high school track.
A pair of Canada geese graze at the Saranac Lake High School track in May 2011.
(Enterprise file photo — Chris Knight)
"My guess is the geese that are there now have babies and grandbabies and great-grandbabies, and they are multiplying very fast," Farmer said. "They disappear in the summer because they go elsewhere in the region for their summer home, but when the conditions change and when October hits, that's when they come back."
Geese have been visiting the district's athletic fields for years, but the problem spiked in 2011 when dozens of geese were living and defecating on school property, creating what school officials said was a health hazard for students.
After other methods to get rid of them proved ineffective, the school board voted in May of that year to hire the U.S. Department of Agriculture to round up and euthanize the birds. The decision was met with a firestorm of criticism from some local residents and the Humane Society of the United States, which called it an "inhumane slaughter." Supporters, however, commended the board for protecting the health of its students.
The board later called off the plan because the birds were gone when the USDA planned to capture them during the molting period in late June and early July when they're flightless. The district then spent $10,000 on a goose poop removal machine called The Nature Sweep.
School officials said this week that the machine is effective, but only when the grass is dry. Given all the rain lately, "It's a mess," Superintendent Gerald Goldman said.
"The boys have not been able to use the field because the geese have taken over and the soccer ball is all green," said board member Katie Fischer. "It's disgusting."
"The kids I'm speaking to and the coaches I'm speaking to are immensely frustrated," Farmer added. "It used to be a football practice field issue; now it's a football practice field issue, a JV soccer issue, a track issue.
"We've been fighting this thing for a while. If there's a simple solution, we would have figured it out. But I'm here to tell you it is multiplying fast. The population is exploding. They're now over at Petrova, Lee (Daunais) tells me, more than he's ever seen them. We thought it was fairly contained five years ago, but now it just keeps spreading."
Board President Debra Lennon said she's surprised that more students aren't getting sick from coming into contact with geese feces.
The board discussed using two methods they haven't tried before to get rid of the geese. Board member Terry Tubridy said he emailed the owner of Long Island-based Geesebusters, which uses what the company's website calls an "animal scaring device" that looks like a predatory bird to scare away geese.
"It's a kite system, essentially," said Dan Bower, the district's Assistant Superintendent for Business.
"It's almost like a remote-controlled airplane disguised as a predator," Farmer said.
"We're going to look into that," Tubridy said. "He's offered to come up here for a week to train how to do this program. The problem is, it's five days of his services we'd have to pay."
Goldman said he'd look into what it would cost to pay someone to run border collies on the school's athletic fields on a regular basis.
"Most of these things are gimmicks," Goldman said. "They work for a little while; then they don't work. The border collie is the real deal. I'm not saying it's cheap, but it's a proven solution. It's worked in other places. We get enough goose poop on enough fields, we're going to start thinking it's not so expensive."