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Wealthy San Francisco Suburb’s Mayor Fights Animal Rights Group Over $170K Bill To Save Geese

Written by Eddie SunPublished Aug. 23, 2023 • 6:30am
Foster City Mayor Jon Froomin poses in front of one of the city’s Canada geese. | Source: Eddie Sun/The Standard

Foster City, an affluent neighborhood in the San Francisco Peninsula known for its almost nonexistent violent crime rate and high cost of living, sparked national attention after plans to cull its Canada geese population attracted animal welfare activists from across the country.

The Animal Protection League of New Jersey was among the outraged groups. They sprung into action to try and save the geese, arranging Zoom sessions with city officials and geese management experts in May and June 2022 to discuss nonlethal ways to address the perceived problem. But in July 2022, the city council voted to move forward with culling the birds.

In a last-ditch effort to stop the slaughter, the league said it would pay the city to develop a nonlethal alternative. In return, they asked city officials to pause the cull.

“Animal Protection League is offering to pay for the development of an effective non-lethal program to minimize human/goose conflicts in Foster City,” the organization said in an email to the city obtained by The Standard. “In return, we ask that Foster City suspend the goose killing program for at least one year.”

Despite voting the cull through, Foster City later walked back its plans to rid the city of geese. The city has since let its permit for the lethal removal of the geese expire without killing a single bird. 

Then in February 2023, the city hired a biological consulting firm to develop a report on nonlethal means of managing the geese population.

The cost of the report totals $171,005, according to Foster City’s website.

The city’s mayor, Jon Froomin, asked the league in early August to honor its initial offer and sent them an invoice.

The league rebuffed the claim, saying the city’s plan vastly differed from its initial proposal. In separate conversations with The Standard, Froomin called the league’s offer “a ploy for attention.” Susan Russell, the policy director for the league, slammed Froomin’s actions as an “unethical stunt.”

The Goose Problem

Geese eat away at grass at Leo J. Ryan Park in Foster City. | Source: Eddie Sun/The Standard

Foster City has a population of around 33,000 people, according to the most recent U.S. Census data available. The Canada geese population in the posh suburb more than doubled from 181 in 2020, to 367 in 2023. Many of the local geese have taken up residence in the town’s 23 parks, which offer manicured lawns and unobstructed access to a lagoon that runs through Foster City––ideal conditions for the birds to thrive.

But while the bird population thrives, they have a natural habit of leaving their feces on the town’s sidewalks and green spaces. The city argues the geese excrement are not only a public nuisance but also a public health issue that officials must address. 

Three Foster City parks were listed on a 2022 Heal the Bay report of the most polluted beaches on the West Coast. Water testing conducted by the city also found dangerous levels of E. coli bacteria in its waterways, which city officials partially blame on goose droppings.

Foster City began discussing and implementing nonlethal measures to manage the geese population in 2021, which included installing strobe lights to deter geese and using dogs to chase the birds away. These measures all proved ineffective, and some, like the lights, were more bothersome to the public than the geese, according to city reports.

A strobe light that supposedly deters geese is installed at Leo J. Ryan Park in Foster City. According to city reports, the light caused more problems for the public than the geese. | Source: Eddie Sun/The Standard

Feeling that all other options were exhausted, city officials were set to cull the geese when animal welfare organizations around the world caught word of their plans. Activists protested at city hall in May 2022, and Froomin said protestors demonstrated in front of his home.

Much of the pushback against the cull, Froomin said, were not coming from Foster City or California residents but from organizations like the Animal Protection League, which is based far from the suburb.

Still, city officials pivoted from culling the geese and say they don’t plan on lethal measures for managing the geese going forward. Froomin said the city began looking into habitat modification as an alternative, a strategy recommended by the league in its July 2022 email to the city.

Habitat modification in Foster City entails adding tall, natural grasses along park waterfronts to add a visual and physical barrier between the geese and the lagoon. Without easy access to a waterway, the geese are, in theory, deterred from nesting at Foster City’s parks.

Both Froomin and the league think habitat modification is the ideal solution to the geese problem. Froomin hopes adding natural barriers will require a one-time city investment with minimal upkeep, and the league promotes it as the least-harmful way to mitigate the birds. But differing feelings about how Foster City is executing this plan is leaving both sides frustrated with one another.

‘Fleecing a Humane Organization’

Foster City Mayor Jon Froomin poses in front of the lagoon at Leo J. Ryan Park. | Source: Eddie Sun/The Standard

City officials contracted Wildlife Innovations, a self-described “wildlife and predator management” consulting firm based in southern California, to develop a management plan for the Canada geese. Initially costing the city $48,660, the price tag ballooned to $171,005 earlier this month to “revise the scope of services” to include habitat modification in its report.

Wildlife Innovations didn’t respond to requests for comment by publication time.

Russell called the costs “outrageous” and said the league will refute Foster City’s invoice. She also criticized Wildlife Innovations and described its organizational strategies as euphemisms for lethal killings. Foster City maintains on its website that the management plan will only specify nonlethal measures.

“I hope [Froomin] is not serious about fleecing a humane organization,” Russell said.

Russell said the league proposed to send its landscape architect to Foster City to canvas a park and provide a rendering for habitat modification works. She estimated the plan would cost the league about $10,000, an offer the organization was happy to extend to Foster City. 

In a follow-up email sent earlier in August obtained by The Standard, the league revised the wording of its offer to develop a plan “specifically for Leo J. Ryan Park,” a central recreational area in Foster City. Officials have repeatedly rejected the league’s specific proposal, citing the organization’s distance from the city.

Froomin hopes to find a solution to the geese overpopulation problem and put the protests behind him. He expressed frustration at the national attention caused by the geese culling plan and what he felt was a disingenuous tactic from the league.

“You can’t make an offer like this, and then all of a sudden when it comes up, then say, ‘We really didn’t mean it. We just wanted to make you look bad for not taking it,’” Froomin said.

But a resolution to the geese saga is still in the distance. Froomin estimates that it will take another three to six months for Wildlife Innovations to release its report, and then Foster City officials will decide on next steps after that.

In the meantime, a cozy Bay Area suburb and an activist organization can fight over the bill, while the geese happily poop on the parks.

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