Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Response to recent publicity about the White Geese

Friends of the White Geese Co-chairs Robert J. La Trémouille and Marilyn Wellons sent the following letter to the Editor of Bostonia, the Boston University alumni magazine. Bostonia's Fall, 2007 issue published an article about the White Geese.


To the Editor:

There may be no such thing as bad publicity. However, your recent article on the Charles River White Geese asserts the geese can't fend for themselves in their habitat. This misstatement is not only false but extremely dangerous for the animals and their friends.

For more than 20 years the White Geese did fend for themselves on the river. With waterproof down jackets, acres of meadows for food, an increasingly clean river, and the love of thousands of residents and visitors, they were safe, healthy, and a source of delight and education for their human friends. They enjoyed our contributions of food as much as we enjoyed giving them, but our contributions only supplemented what they independently got from their habitat.

Before September 2004 we had no idea how supplementary our feeding was. That month the DCR-Cambridge "restoration" prevented the geese from going ashore to feed at Magazine Beach. (The fields there have grasses and other plants, including polygonum, a wetland-defining member of the buckwheat family that is an important source of food for waterfowl.) The White Geese were frantic, because they fed here—quite on their own—all day long.

Since then it has been impossible or extremely dangerous for them to feed at Magazine Beach. They have essentially been confined to their nesting area, now their ghetto. This accords with the DCR-Cambridge policy of eliminating them from the river by whatever means necessary. If that includes starvation, too bad for the geese.

A heroic group of people, including the ones featured in your article, have kept the geese from that fate. The geese’s need for such help now is not proof they have always needed it or always will. They undeniably fended for themselves until the DCR and Cambridge deliberately denied them access to food. (This followed the DCR's deliberate destruction of the nesting habitat, using Boston University as its agent, in 1999.)

Saying the geese can't survive in their entire habitat will also allow the DCR and Cambridge to claim the geese shouldn't be there—that they're pets or farm animals, not natives—and should be removed (read: destroyed). This has in fact been the agency's line since 1998, as indicated in a memo Friends of the White Geese obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and in subsequent DCR-Cambridge actions.

Will ignorance of this history condemn us to repeat what followed from that memo?

• In 2000, the MSPCA, working with the DCR and then-State Rep. Barrios, offered "humane measures" to deal with the 1998 memo’s fabricated problems with the geese. When Friends of the White Geese proposed "humane measures" for Rep. Barrios, he claimed we wanted to assassinate him.

• In 2001, the MSPCA, still working with the DCR, again offered "humane treatment" at its happy farm in Methuen to save the geese from DCR-instigated violence. Three people, including an MSPCA employee, independently told [us] the animals would be destroyed there.

• Since 2000, the DCR has claimed it doesn’t intend to harm the geese. Since the starvation began in September, 2004, the DCR has announced that starving the geese is not harming them.

If Boston University, once again the DCR's agent, tells us the White Geese—Charles River natives for 25 generations—aren’t fit to live on the river, what's up? Can we expect another offer of "humane treatment"? DCR "No-Feeding" signs in Cambridge like in Boston and arrests of people who do feed them? More vilification of a "non-native species," more violence?

There’s a simple remedy for the geese's current plight. Restore them to their entire habitat. Recognize it as habitat, the wildlife sanctuary it is. Recognize the White Geese as the treasure they are: sources of delight and knowledge of the natural world, symbols of Cambridge, Boston, the Charles River, and even Boston University, and a sentinel species that warns us of threats to their, and our, habitat here.

With this recognition of the status quo before the DCR, Cambridge, and Boston University began their attacks on them, the Charles River White Geese would be fine.