Locals flock to help stranded goose

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By Stephen Knapp

A bit of summer stranded at Evergreen Lake drew the attention and sympathy of a small army of local wildlife enthusiasts. Yet the good-hearted citizens determined to save a solitary Canada goose from a cold and bitter end found themselves torn between love and the law.


“There are a lot of people who are very aware of this goose, but we can’t legally help this animal,” explains Jeannie Lister, who’s been following the goose’s plight since August. “Sometimes the rules that are made take away from the reality of the situation.”


The reality of the situation is that, sometime last summer, a nesting female Canada goose broke its wing. The injured limb knitted together imperfectly, rendering the creature flightless, and while its fellows flapped off to warmer quarters, the bird, unofficially known as “Frances” remained confined to her rapidly disappearing waterhole.


“When the last open water freezes over, she’ll have nowhere to go for safety from predators,” Lister explained recently. “There were coyote tracks on the shore the other morning. Watching the ice encroach on her last bit of freedom is kind of sad.”


Last Wednesday, Frances’s patch of liquid safety measured a spare 100 square feet, and this week’s hard freeze bode ill.


Lister and dozens of other Friends of Frances had been monitoring the castaway and leaving warm corn mush by the cold lakeshore. Even that small gesture, however, ran contrary to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a nearly century-old document intended to protect, among other things, Canada geese.


“You have to have a special federal permit to deal with these birds, and you can’t keep a bird that can’t be rehabilitated,” says Carol Wade, a volunteer with the nonprofit Birds of Prey Foundation and one of Frances’ most ardent well-wishers. “I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place. My heart tells me one thing, but my training tells me something else. I would love to see a happy ending to this story, especially at this time of year, but keeping, or even helping it, is against the law. In the end, the only choice is to let nature take its course, or play the bad guy and euthanize it humanely.”


A geologist by profession, Lister also holds a degree in wildlife biology and well understands nature’s harsh imperatives. Still, she and others consider federal and state wildlife regulations — in this instance, anyway — both unnecessary and unacceptable.


“You could let a coyote get it, or you could euthanize it, or somebody could just quietly take it home and put it in their pond,” says Lister, mincing no words. “I’d take it myself if I had a suitable place to keep it, but I don’t.


“So many people up here have a great love of wildlife, and a great respect for wildlife. To me, this goose is becoming a symbol of something.”