GASTONIA, N.C. -- Animal advocates didn’t forget about the 144 Canada geese rounded up and euthanized from a Gaston County park in June.
On Tuesday they’ll present county commissioners with a petition with 5,000 signatures asking for the removal of Parks Director Cathy Hart.
The citizens group sought the help of the Humane Society of Eastern North Carolina in compiling an investigative report they say uncovered deception on the part of Hart and the parks advisory board in regard to the removal of the geese.
In June, Hart told the Observer that the parks department killed the geese only after several other nonlethal efforts to remove them didn’t work.
But according to the Humane Society report, 96 pages of emails obtained by the society through an N.C. Public Records Law request confirm that Hart and the advisory board were ready to use the euthanasia method to get rid of the geese as soon as they could get U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services personnel to Dallas Park and proceeded without community notification or input.
“It seems clear from reading the information that county commissioners weren’t brought into the decision-making process,” said Peter MacQueen III, president of the Southport-based Humane Society of Eastern North Carolina. “It doesn’t look like the (geese) problem was ever verified. It seemed the parks director perceived it was a problem the geese were supposedly causing. The important thing is that this (report) shows this was not handled in a professional manner. No outside help from wildlife experts or biologists was sought.”
County commissioners Chairman Mickey Price feels Hart followed the proper steps in getting rid of the geese and had nothing to hide. But he said the board would listen to the animal advocates and “if something needs to be done we’ll do it.”
County Commissioners Vice Chairman Tracy Philbeck reserved comment until after Tuesday’s presentation. However, he called the geese being euthanized “very unfortunate.”
“Going forward, I would expect this situation would be handled much differently,” Philbeck said.
Hart had no comment on the report, saying she had already explained her actions to commissioners.
In June, Hart said the geese were removed from the 90-acre Dallas Park because they were a public nuisance.
Complaints about unsanitary droppings came from people walking the trails, fishing on the lakes, around playgrounds, athletic fields and restrooms.
The geese were year-round residents of the park and their numbers continued to increase.
Local animal advocates were outraged by their killing, Gaston commissioners asked Hart to explain the decision in more detail at a public meeting in July. Representatives from the USDA Wildlife Services also spoke.
But animal advocates didn’t let the matter rest.
MacQueen said the Humane Society was concerned the same geese euthanasia scenario might occur in eastern North Carolina and got in touch with the Gaston animal advocates.
In preparing the report, MacQueen said he contacted the USDA Wildlife Services in Raleigh and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Atlanta. He called the USDA’s involvement with geese being euthanized a “conflict of interest” because a large percentage of the agency’s budget comes from fees they charge to kill animals.
According to the Gaston report, emails and information obtained from Hart revealed the plan to kill the geese dated to February 2012.
At that time, the report stated, Gastonia’s Rankin Lake Park was opening and the city’s recreation director Chuck Dellinger told Hart she could get rid of the geese at Dallas Park by obtaining a depredation (kill) permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
“Emails confirm Ms. Hart and her parks board were ready to use this method just as quickly as they could get the USDA out to Dallas Park,” the report stated. “And while they were waiting for the geese to molt, which made them easy prey for the ‘killers’ to catch and throw them into gas chambers they sent many emails back and forth, laughing and joking about the killing of these innocent creatures.”
Emails included a comment from an advisory board member that “Canada geese are just rats with wings” and another from Hart that “I have offered geese as door prizes many times but no one takes me up on it.”
The report stated that a number of nonlethal methods must be tried before a depredation permit can be obtained and that Hart’s application dated March 7, 2012, was deceptive. The permit review accompanying her application stated that pyrotechnics and harassment with border collies had been used to address the geese problem, the report said.
But contracts and permits provided by Hart to the Humane Society showed “she did not own a pyrotechnic gun until after the killing of the geese.”
In a Nov. 8, 2012, email to then Gaston County Assistant Manager Phil Ponder, Hart said a plan to use border collies to get rid of the geese hadn’t gotten funded, but she had “found a cheaper and more effective way.”
The report stated that Hart’s assertions she used nonlethal measures to manage the geese “were not factual.”
Becky Duffeck of Dallas is a volunteer with the Carolina Waterfowl Rescue and said that organization would have relocated the geese.
A member of the local animal advocate group, she’ll present the petition to county commissioners on Tuesday. It will ask the board to discontinue use of a pyrotechnic gun at the Dallas Park and allow some Canada geese to return.
In addition to Hart’s removal, the petition urges her replacement to be someone who’ll be humane to wildlife. Duffeck also wants the county to accept an offer from the Washington-based Humane Society of the United States to help start a non-lethal waterfowl management program.
“A lot of people loved and valued those geese,” she said. “These noble creatures did not deserve the punishment of death.”