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Beyond Busch campus: The environmental effects and history of Canadian geese in New Jersey

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Busch campus is infamous for its geese population during the summer, fall and spring months. There is even a Facebook profile with the name "Busch Goose" that sums up what is likely to come out of an interaction with the geese. 

Despite the sarcasm, much of the perception surrounding geese in Rutgers seems to follow up the idea that geese are a plague.

The iconic geese often seen around campus had almost become extinct in the 19th and early 20th century as a result of habitat loss and overexploitation, according to "Canada Goose Ecology and Impacts in New Jersey" by Brooke Maslo and Chloe Lewis, an extension specialist and technician in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources (DEENR), respectively.

Thus the question must be asked: why are there so many geese on Busch campus?

This could be due to human activity as conservation efforts popped up to save the dying species. “Through regulatory actions, habitat restoration and species conservation initiatives, the population rapidly recovered and then expanded, with current numbers far exceeding historic estimates,” according to the publication. 

For the most part, the geese populations in New Jersey alone account for more than a million birds.

The fact of the matter is that the most widespread populations of geese, the Canada goose, are versatile. Unlike other animals, they benefit from human environments, “large expanses of mowed lawns adjacent to storm water detention basins, landscape designs typical of corporate campuses, residential developments and golf courses, are perfect habitats for Canada geese," according to the publication.

These types of environment offer benefits such as refuge from predators, higher quality food source and overall less hunting.They also offer benefits to the ecology, but in moderately sized populations. 

“Geese disperse seeds by consuming fruits and berries and then depositing the seeds in feces in another location. They also enrich ecosystems through nutrient inputs (feces) and as prey items for several predatory species, including raptors, foxes, coyotes and snakes,” according to the publication.

On the other hand, an overabundance of geese can damage the ecosystem far more than it can benefit, as they can as well as overgraze and trample over vegetation, limiting the amount of food sources available to other wildlife and eroding shorelines.

The waste that results from an oversized population can decrease water quality as well as contribute to fish deaths, as their waste increases the productivity of phytoplankton and decreases oxygen levels in water that fish need to survive in.

The threats posed to human populations are consequential, as geese can damage agriculture, pose significant threats to aircrafts, contaminate water with infectious waste and become a nuisance in public spaces such as parks, athletic fields and shorelines by creating foul odors and slippery conditions.

What is most surprising is that Canada geese are generally docile, but when it comes to protecting their nests and goslings, they can become aggressive. 

The presence of geese remains to be a danger integral to the daily life of a Rutgers student, but the danger that these geese pose to the environment and humans can be minimized with appropriate population management.

“Appropriate management of the resident Canada goose population in New Jersey can reduce negative human-goose interactions and improve overall ecosystem health,” according to the publication.

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