City hall misleading on geese kill plans

by Wendy Harris |
Wendy is a resident of Silver Beach on the north side of Lake Whatcom. This is her second guest writer article - and follows her first on the geese kill plans posted last Sunday.

On June 12th, the Silver Beach Neighborhood Association (SBNA) President forwarded an email from a neighborhood resident who stated that she had made arrangements for US Fish and Wildlife to trap and kill the Canadian Geese that gather on her lakefront lawn. Trapping was scheduled for Friday, June 20th, and Bill Reilly, the City’s Public Works Stormwater Program Manager, advised her that the Director of Public Works agreed to pay for this service, as well as for trapping and killing geese at Bloedel Donovan Park and other lakefront areas.

The SBNA president recommended that residents contact Mr. Reilly if they wished to weigh in on this issue, although the City did not ask him to solicit this input. Residents were first advised of this matter one week before the scheduled US Fish and Wildlife action. There was neither prior public notice nor opportunity for public input.

On Friday June 13th, sometime after 3 PM, Inga Gibson, the Washington State Director for the Humane Society, contacted Mr. Reilly, and discussed, among other things, the negative publicity that would be generated if the City funded eradication of Lake Whatcom geese without a public hearing. At 5 PM that afternoon, Mr. Reilly sent an email to Silver Beach residents.

Mr. Reilly thanked residents for participating in the City’s geese eradication survey. He stated that the City only intended to fund this program if there was overwhelming assent, and it was now obvious that this was a polarizing subject. Since there was no consensus on this issue, the City would not be funding or promoting the US Fish and Wildlife program in 2008, but Mr. Reilly made it clear that the City had serious intentions of revisiting this issue in 2009, reviewing all options, including eradication, and soliciting comments on any new proposal. Mr. Reilly promised that this was “not a forgotten issue.”

I am disturbed by this email for a number of reasons. First, no Silver Beach resident that I spoke to, including our president, was aware of a City survey regarding geese eradication. The email notes that the City had only one week’s notice of the scheduled eradication, clearly insufficient time to create any type of valid neighborhood survey. Second, Lake Whatcom water quality issues impact all residents, so it is inappropriate to limit a survey to the Silver Beach neighborhood. Third, it is difficult to believe that the City was not aware that eradicating geese was a controversial issue, or that consensus in a neighborhood infamous for disagreement and in-fighting was, at best, unlikely. Until I am provided with contrary evidence, I can only conclude that the email deliberately referenced a non-existent survey to hide the fact that the City planned to fund the eradication program without any public input.

Yet the most troubling part of the email is that it did not state that US Fish and Wildlife would not eradicate Lake Whatcom geese, only that the City no longer intended to pay for the 2008 eradication. Subsequent to this email, when questioned directly, Mr. Reilly stated that he did not know if the federal government intended to trap and kill Lake Whatcom geese this week. So the City does not concern itself with whether, when and what the federal government is doing at Lake Whatcom? Frankly, I can only hope that this is yet another misstatement, because the possibility that the City is uninvolved in and unconcerned about federal activities on Lake Whatcom is more frightening than the possibility that they are not being forthcoming with what they know.

Nor did Mr. Reilly avail himself of the opportunity to eliminate concern that the City is tacitly supporting the eradication program. Ms. Gibson, of the Humane Society, spoke with Mr. Reilly a second time on June 19th regarding this specific issue. Mr. Reilly stated that a large number of people support eradication of the Lake Whatcom geese, and to his knowledge, nothing could prevent these people from making their own arrangements with US Fish and Wildlife.

I do not know whether the US Fish and Wildlife will be eradicating Canadian geese on Lake Whatcom this season. I only know that after being confronted with a plan to fund this program without public input, the City issued a carefully worded but misleading email and professed ignorance when questioned in more detail. Decisions regarding how we restore the Lake and how we will treat wildlife belong to all residents of Bellingham, not just a small minority who have lakefront homes. The rights of the entire community are violated where the City fails to aggressively ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in the public process.

About Wendy Harris

Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 31, 2008