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Geese numbers, damage rise
Birds ‘keying in’ on alfalfa fields; damage can be total
By HOLLY OWENS H&N Staff Writer

3/16/06 Herald and News

   When Bob Flowers was growing up on his family’s ranch near Midland, geese weren’t a problem.
   Now they are.
   As increasing geese populations search for food, their territory expands. And so does the damage they cause to area fields and refuges.
   Flowers, president of the Klamath-Lake County Farm Bureau, is among those trying to assess and limit the damage.
   The Farm Bureau sponsored a meeting for farmers Friday about the affects of wild geese populations.
   More than 450,000 white-fronted geese and more than 250,000 Ross geese migrate along the Pacific Flyway. Around 70 percent of those are thought to visit the Basin in the spring, according to Dave Mauser, a refuge biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge in Tulelake.
   The birds’ appetites change from fall to spring. During fall migration, the geese eat grains and potatoes. In the spring, they search for green forage.
   “They’re keying in on these pastures,” said Ron Cole, refuge manager at the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges. “They’re keying in on alfalfa. These are important crops for these geese.”
   Geese will often feed at the center of a field, eating the freshly emerging crop down to the dirt. Damage to an alfalfa field can be total since the crop cannot be reseeded.
   “They don’t just take the first crop of alfalfa, they take the whole stand,” said Frank Anderson, a Miller Island area farmer.
   In an effort to keep geese out of fields, farmers use decoys and loud noises to scare them off, but it doesn’t keep them away for long.
   “They’ll get it sooner or later,” said Luther Horsely, a Midland area farmer.
   Bare dirt in fields depleted of crops also provide a foothold for noxious weeds, which in turn increases herbicide costs for farmers. Geese present a different problem for cattlemen.
   Bacteria present in geese feces can cause scours, or diarrhea, in newborn calves.
   And ultimately, migrating geese populations may not be an issue just for farmers. As county development spreads, Cole said, a comprehensive plan will be needed to address the needs of farmers, refuges and residential developments in rural areas.
   Finding a solution to the problem may not take drastic measures, and Basin area growers can utilize a goose depredation study done in the Willamette Valley as a resource.
   “Maybe it will take five or six little things,” Flowers said. “We don’t have to blaze a new trail on these issues.”
   Some solutions considered at the meeting included changing habitat in the Klamath Basin and further south into California, introducing a special spring-season hunt, and compensating farmers.
   “It’s going to take a combination of things,” Cole said. “There are a lot of tools that are out there.”
   But, he added, there should be compensation of some sort for the wildlife habitat farmers provide.
   “You’ve been bearing it on your back and providing the food these birds are eating,” Cole said. “In the end you’ve got to have some kind of compensation for the conservation work you’re doing.”
   But the idea of financial compensation didn’t please everyone.
   “I’d rather make my money off the ground. I farm,” said Ryan Kliewer. Kliewer and his wife Laurinda grow 250 acres of mostly organic alfalfa and grain.
   Getting federal monies to fund a compensation program is unlikely, according to Klamath County Commissioner Bill Brown, who also attended the meeting Friday.
   Brown, back from a trip to Washington, D.C., said discretionary spending, due to increased costs from Medicare, Medicaid, and disaster relief, is limited, and new appropriations will be difficult to attain.
H&N photo by Gary Thain Ross geese can be seen in a pasture near the Klamath Wildlife Area south of Klamath Falls Wednesday morning. Farmers and landowners discussed problems they are having with migrating geese and possible solutions during a meeting Friday at the Klamath County Fairgrounds.



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