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Back when ‘goose abortion’ outraged Burnaby citizens, animal activists

The Burnaby NOW archives are filled with stories from 1988 about Burnaby Lake's Canada goose problem, including one article about a field hockey player who broke her jaw after slipping in goose poo during a game.

A field hockey mishap that sent one player to hospital with a broken jaw, four damaged teeth and a gash requiring 17 stitches was a cautionary tale for all who underestimated the seriousness of Burnaby Lake’s Canada goose problem in the mid-1980s.

Cathy Patterson had taken to one of the fields at Burnaby Lake for a game in March 1988.

Alas, the grass was slick with goose poo, and Patterson collided with another player after both slipped in the excrement.

The other player’s stick came up and cracked Patterson in the face.

“The blood was just pumping out of her mouth and her teeth were shoved right back,” Burnaby Women’s Field Hockey Association president Moira Colbourne told the NOW in a March 30, 1988 story.

Geese at Burnaby Lake had become a problem of major proportions, eventually earning prominent mention in a 1991 Canadian Wildlife Service report on the issue of Canada geese in the Lower Mainland.

Burnaby Lake was noted among five other “major breeding concentrations” in the region.

Between 1987 to 1990, the report said Burnaby had tried to counteract all that breeding by rounding up juvenile geese and relocating them to areas with “relatively high hunting mortality,” but the report noted that approached didn’t really solve the problem of breeding birds.

In 1988, the city also launched a 30-day egg-addling campaign, hiring BCIT students to locate nests and shake each of the eggs, breaking the embryo inside and fooling the female geese into sitting on the eggs through the nesting season.

Then-mayor Bill Copeland joked that it seemed “like a dirty trick to pull.”

“I wonder if we’re going to see a bunch of little mutant geese running around after it’s all over,” he quipped in a March 16, 1988 NOW article.

But the addling plan was no joking matter for some.

“That is goose abortion – and without the geese having any choice in the matter!” wrote Kamloops resident Mona J. Saemerow in a letter to the editor published in the NOW on March 23, 1988.

The animal rights group LifeForce wasn’t amused either and called for a halt to the goose-egg-addling program.

The group wrote a strongly worded letter to council saying reducing the nuisance urban goose population by shaking eggs to destroy embryos deprived mother geese of “maternal bonding” and resulted in “psychological or even physical harm” as well as "deformities and mutilations to goslings,” according to a story in the April 27, 1988 issue of the NOW.

In that same paper, however, there was also a story about the program forging ahead.

Burnaby grounds superintendent said the geese were wreaking havoc on local fields and something had to be done or the population would “snowball.”

He noted Burnaby’s annual Christmas bird count in 1969 had found 23 Canada geese in the city. By 1986, that number had ballooned to 622.

“We just want people to understand we aren’t trying to eradicate the goose population,” Spelay said. “We just want geese and humans to live together.”

By 1991, egg addling had reduced gosling production at Burnaby Lake by about 85 per cent, according to the Canadian Wildlife Service report, but the report warned the program needed to continue long term since egg addling did nothing to decrease the adult population in the short term.

The service also recommended an adult sterilization program for Burnaby Lake's “problem flock” but noted sterilization was “time consuming.”

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
Email cnaylor@burnabynow.com