Kalispell is collaborating with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in an effort to reduce the domestic waterfowl population in Woodland Park and the negative impacts they pose in the area.
With an estimated 200 domestic geese and ducks in the area, the dense population has created a variety of issues, including pond health, wildlife-human conflicts, feces accumulation, overgrazing, vehicle safety hazards and increased disease.
“We’re looking at ways to control both populations and create a clean, healthy environment both for migratory birds and the people attending the park,” Kalispell Parks and Recreation Director Chad Fincher said.
While there are several population control options, it is likely that FWP will conduct a “capture and euthanize” method, which will bring the most immediate result.
Other options include eliminating or reducing public feeding, egg removal and installing beacons or flashing lights. However, those options are cost-prohibitive and labor-intensive and would likely be less successful, according to city officials.
Public feeding has become an issue in Woodland Park, officials say, because it provides little nutritional value to the waterfowl, resulting in angel wing, a crippling disease, and deformations. It also results in a high bird density, which increases competition in an environment that wouldn’t normally support them. Feeding can cause more aggressive behavior towards humans, and birds continue to congregate near the playground and walking trails.
As a result of the bird overpopulation, the overall species health is deteriorating because of interbreeding, which is causing a lack of genetic diversity and increased disease spread. Since the normally migratory birds tend to stay in the park, they are cohabitating and breeding with domestic birds.
Exotic waterfowl were introduced to Woodland Park many years ago following the Conrad family’s park donation, officials say. While their population was historically controlled, they have since become unregulated, causing interbreeding and overpopulation.
“I’m delighted that you are considering doing something about the problem at the local park,” said Kalispell resident Dan Black. “I’ve been going to Woodland park longer than a lot of you were alive, and I do remember there were birds down there, but the numbers were just a fraction of what they are today and the numbers were more controlled.”
Officials say people often dump domestic species such as rabbits, chickens and other waterfowl in Woodland Park, particularly after Easter, which also contributes to the problem.
“The domestic and exotic waterfowl at the park are a problem,” FWP Regional Information and Education Program Manager Dillon Tabish said. “It’s not our native ducks. We’re talking about those domestic and exotic ducks that are not native and not natural to this park. They’re not in a healthy state and they’re not healthy for the ecosystem.”
While city officials agree the waterfowl population must be eliminated, some councilors propose less wasteful means to reduce the birds.
Fincher says historically some farmers have adopted the birds for their property, but usually this relocates fewer than 10 annually.
Councilor Ryan Hunter of Ward 3 suggested opening a 30-day window prior to euthanization to give the public an opportunity to adopt the waterfowl.
Following the domestic waterfowl elimination, FWP intends to revitalize and deepen the three-foot pond that has suffered from the overpopulation.
Officials are currently working to educate the public on the negative effects of artificial feeding and add more signs discouraging people from feeding.
Additionally, the city addressed the ongoing core area trail, which has been named the Kalispell Parkline, and proposed a pedestrian hybrid beacon, which triggers a traffic light when pedestrians need to cross a road. The traffic device would assist trail users in crossing U.S. Highway 93.
“There’s been a lot of concerns over how to move across Main Street,” Kalispell Planning Director Jarod Nygren said.
Although the Montana Department of Transportation has not yet approved the pedestrian hybrid beacon, Nygren says it shows a safe way to cross the busy road.
In a Legislature update, Republican Rep. Frank Garner of House District 17 updated Kalispell on general fund collections, which remain strong. Through the end of January, general fund revenues were $92.5 million, a 6.4% increase from the previous year. Garner says this is due to a strong economy and more income tax revenue, which he expects to continue.