Westerlo man ticketed for shooting goose

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
William Kowal has been ticketed by an Environmental Conservation Officer for shooting a Canadian goose out of season.

WESTERLO — A Westerlo homeowner is pleading not guilty after being charged with illegally shooting a Canadian goose on his property.

William Kowal, 77, was issued three tickets on April 22 by Environmental Conservation Officer Mark Vencak, all for incidents that occurred three days before in Westerlo: possessing a loaded firearm on a motor vehicle, shooting within 500 feet of a dwelling, and taking migratory game out of season. Kowal said he’s only guilty of the last of the three charges and that is due to a bureaucratic error.

Kowal, a landlord who rents out 3 of 5 dwellings he owns on Kowal Lane in Westerlo, said he has written permission as per a lease agreement each of his tenants signed that states he may fire a gun in order to take out pests near the homes. One of his tenants had called him to complain about a Canadian goose that was disturbing her, Kowal said.

Rick Georgeson, a representative for the Department of Environmental Conservation, said firing a gun within 500 feet of a home is legal if the resident gives permission, but was not sure if a lease agreement counted as giving permission.

As to the charge for carrying a loaded firearm on a vehicle, Kowal said that he had not loaded his shotgun until he had dismounted the all-terrain vehicle he had ridden to access the area near the pond where the goose was.

Kowal said he maybe guilty of shooting a Canadian goose out of season, but only because a permit he had applied for almost a year ago to legally do so is still being processed. He said he has both gun and hunting licenses.

In order to catch or kill migratory birds, a permit must be filed with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Canadian geese can only be hunted in the fall in the U.S. without this permit.

Artie McCollum, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said that these permits are offered for a variety of reasons, from using dead or living birds to educate the public, to capturing birds in order to rehabilitate them. Kowal’s permit would be known as a Migratory Bird Depredation Permit; depredation refers to damage or loss caused by birds and can affect agriculture, human health, as well as other wildlife. Kowal said he had applied for a yearly permit for the last 15 years or so of tending his Westerlo property because the geese visiting a pond on his property spread disease through their feces.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, goose feces in bodies of water can spread germs such as E. coli and salmonella, as well as parasites such as giardia and cyclospora, according to a study by the National Wildlife Health Center. In 2015, Kowal said he and his family became sick with giardia from contamination in the groundwater, and that a family dog died from a parasite. He had not applied for a permit that year, he said, because of a lack of geese the year before.

Once rare in New York State, Canadian geese have seen a population boom since the 1990s. They are protected under state and federal regulations.

Landowners are legally allowed to harass geese to keep them away from their property, said McCollum. In order to obtain a depredation permit to legally catch or kill geese, an applicant must work with the United States Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assess if enough damage is being done to the property to warrant a permit, he added.

Within the last year, the President’s Council on Environmental Quality offered its final guidance on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change in the National Environmental Policy Act. This was later withdrawn in April of this year. When NEPA is updated or reviewed, it affects all federal agencies, including the FWS’s permitting process.

The Enterprise has reached out to the USFWS concerning the status of Kowal’s application as well the effects of NEPA on the application process. The agency acknowledged a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the application, but has not yet responded to the request. Other officials have not yet responded to questions about NEPA.

If a permit is not obtained, Canadian geese can only be taken during the fall in New York State; 15 per day in September, and three a day in November and December. Nest and eggs may be taken or destroyed without a permit, but the person doing this must register with the FWS online. Airports may take birds or eggs within certain dates and with some federal supervision. The DEC may also authorize taking birds or eggs in the spring and summer if agriculture or public health is at risk.

The DEC also recommends several different non-lethal means to keep away geese, including fencing, grid wires over a waterbody, visual scaring devices such as balloons or mylar tape, noisemakers, repellents, or herding dogs.


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