No verdict reached on GMF Goose truce

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by Rick Langenberg

 

Despite much public comment and outcries from residents, the fate of Green Mountain Falls’ herd of duck and geese still remains in limbo.

But “General Roy,” a Chinese domestic duck who has been a focal point in the controversy, now known as “Goose-gate” in several local establishments, can still be fed by his main caretaker, long-time resident Ann Pinell. But other waterfowl members may go hungry this winter and spring, unless they can rely on scraps of food provided illegally by local residents and visitors. Last week, the GMF Board of Trustees didn’t make a decision regarding its goose quagmire, and opted to continue the hearing dealing with its current anti-wildlife feeding ordinance on Nov. 18.

Pinell, known as the “Goose lady” for her role in tending to the needs of the town’s waterfowl that wander around the gazebo area and in the middle of town, expressed optimism that an amicable solution would be reached.  “I felt real good about the meeting and the support we received. I am confident that everybody will love the geese if they just take the time to see them around the lake. They are so beautiful,” said Pinell, in a phone interview, following last week’s goose feeding hearing. She said she even invited the board of trustees to join her for a tour of the town’s duck and geese habitat.   

Pinell, who was recently cited for illegally feeding wildlife and slapped with a $50 fine (with court costs), admits the waterfowl feeding controversy in GMF has taken on a life of its own.  “It really has gotten out of proportion and is quite silly,” admitted Pinell. She has received much support from long-time residents and civic leaders, who have expressed outrage over Pinell’s wildlife feeding citation. 

Patrons of the Blue Moose Tavern have referred to the controversy as “Goose-gate,” and believe town officials are making matters worse with their anti-waterfowl stand. During last week’s hearing, former Mayor Dick Bratton made a public plea on behalf of Pinell and urged the trustees to alter the current anti-wildlife feeding law so it wouldn’t apply to duck and geese. According to Bratton, the current restrictions were done to prevent the illegal feeding of bears and weren’t intended to include, ducks, geese and other waterfowl. “The current ordinance was written in 2002 primarily as a way of addressing the rampant bear problems in town,” stated Bratton. “I know that was the reason and the clear intent because I was the author of the new wildlife ordinance. Note that the words ‘ducks, geese and waterfowl’ were not included in the ordinance. There was no problem with waterfowl in 2002.”

Moreover, the former mayor believes the marshal and the court misinterpreted the intent of the law when citing Pinell  for illegally feeding wildlife. As a result, he suggested making changes to clarify this situation and installing warning signs at the lake and even establishing food dispensers to serve the needs of its duck and goose habitat. Many residents have spoken in favor of Pinell and say the feeding of the geese represents a popular tourist tradition.

But not everyone is thrilled with this tradition, with some residents noting that times have changed. Last summer, motorists driving through town often had to endure lengthy waits for geese and ducks to cross the main road. Some also contend that the geese pose a litter and debris problem. The goose quagmire worsened last summer due to the frequent moisture the area experienced. Marshal Tim Bradley in a town meeting in September cited a growing problem with an overpopulation of domestic ducks and waterfowl in GMF and told the trustees he planned to take a more vigilant role in enforcing the town’s laws regarding illegally feeding wildlife, which he believes includes ducks and geese.

But some wildlife officials disagree that waterfowl should be part of regulations pertaining to illegally feeding wildlife. In a previous meeting, city attorney Matt Krob argued that the current law did apply to waterfowl, but advised the trustees to tighten up its ordinance. The town’s board of trustees has maintained they will abide by the majority community sentiment. But unfortunately, many mixed opinions have been relayed regarding this issue.

At the same time, some business operators and residents say the controversy is giving the town a bizarre image. This isn’t something GMF needs right now, with elected leaders wanting to move beyond earlier fights that often divided the town. Last spring, for example, the town had a complete walk-out of  its key town employees and managers, following the municipal election of April 2014. Town meetings are still quite testy.