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Deer, goose overpopulation an issue across Upstate New York: How did it happen? (video)

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  • Josh Durso 

Have you seen more geese or deer in the Finger Lakes this year? If it seems like you’re seeing more – it’s not your imagination. Overpopulation of an unnatural Canada Goose, and white-tailed deer have caused a bit of ecological chaos. Both species, once dwindling in numbers, have seen their populations surge to troubling levels, putting other native species at risk.

The story begins a century ago when much of New York State was largely deforested and used for agricultural purposes. “Back in, say the early-1900s, say 100 years ago, largely, New York State was unforested. It was mostly agricultural areas or grassland habitats,” said Chris Lajewski, Center Director for the Montezuma Audubon Center. “Whitetail deer populations declined significantly. There was a lot of hunting going on at that point.”

However, as the state underwent reforestation, habitats for the white-tailed deer expanded. This, combined with a decline in hunting, led to an explosion in their numbers. Lajewski highlighted the ecological consequences of this boom noting it has had a widespread impact. “White-tailed deer love to eat seedlings, the small trees, you know, one two-year-old trees,” he said. “Those trees, if left to grow, would eventually become large canopy trees, where species like bald eagle and warblers and various Baltimore Orioles will nest.”

The Audubon Center has since been involved with the hunting community, advocating for controlled hunting as a means to rebalance the population.

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Parallelly, the Canada Goose population narrative has its own complications. About a century ago, in an effort to replenish dwindling waterfowl numbers, biologists paired wild migratory Canada geese with domesticated geese.

The offspring turned into what is known today as the resident Canada goose – a non-migratory bird that dominates local waterways all year round. “If you see a Canada Goose in June, July, or August, that’s probably a resident Canada Goose and not a truly native migratory Canada Goose,” Lajewski explained.

The proliferation of resident Canada geese has had adverse effects on local ecosystems, occupying habitats essential for other native waterfowl. The balance between species has shifted dramatically, emphasizing the need for effective population management.

These intertwined histories serve as a reminder of the complexities of regional ecosystems. As Upstate New York grapples with these ecological challenges, experts like Lajewski say informed, responsible actions are the best bet to maintain the things people appreciate most about the Finger Lakes.