Three miles of fence and a month long molt gave the grass a start against the Canada geese. But Jeff Pelc has no delusions that the battle on the banks of the Olentangy River is over.
The birds love to eat the newly sprouted green grass that Columbus is trying to grow along the river near Ohio State University. Back in March, the city hired Pelc, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, to scare the birds away from the project to restore the riverbank’s natural habitat.
And it seems to have worked. Through mid-June, Pelc shot fireworks called Bird Bangers and Whistler Screamers to frighten the geese away, and he chased them off with laser beams. Then, fences blocked many of the geese from coming back during their summer molt, when they couldn’t fly.
When the pyrotechnics started, there were nearly 100 geese. Recently, there have been about 40 in the area, Pelc said.
“They’re very imprinted on that specific area of the river,” he said of a 11/2-mile stretch of bank between W. 5th and Lane avenues.
The birds are flying again now, allowing them to hop the city’s orange snow fence and graze on the new grass. Pelc and his team have resumed the fireworks, he said. They patrol the banks in golf carts.
So far, the number of loud shots fired each day has been much lower than expected, Pelc said. Initially, he thought he’d have to fire 100 rounds each day. Many days, it has been as few as 10.
Grass and other vegetation have grown up along the river over the past four months, covering the brown dirt the geese pecked for newly planted seeds in March and April.
The geese will be allowed to nest on the banks eventually, but not until grass has reached reasonable levels alongside the newly planted willow trees and other vegetation. “The goal for us is to keep the geese off long enough that that grass gets established enough that the consumption doesn’t impact the growth substantially,” Pelc said.
Through June, repelling the geese has cost the city $29,845.65, with up to $150,000 allocated through the fall, if necessary, said George Zonders, a spokesman for Columbus’ public utilities.
The revitalization effort near Ohio State is about a year ahead of the city’s Scioto Greenways project, which will create 33 acres of parkland between COSI Columbus and Downtown along the banks of a narrowed Scioto River. That project’s budget is $35.5 million and it is scheduled to be completed by fall 2015.
The city’s plans for natural vegetation along the Downtown riverbank and stretches of grass and bike trail could require more anti-geese efforts next year, said Amy Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Downtown Development Corp., which is overseeing that project.
“We’re definitely looking at what worked and lessons learned for geese mitigation (along the Olentangy),” she said. “There will be a plan to mitigate the geese and ensure what we plant stays planted.”