Caddyshack Meets Sports Tourism as Venues Confront Stubborn Wildlife
8 Oct, 2020By: Mary Helen Sprecher
When soccer parks, ball fields and recreational areas all fell silent at once this spring, it allowed for a kind of revitalization nobody expected. Canada geese, groundhogs, deer, birds, raccoons and other forms of wildlife moved in and set up housekeeping on the turf and around the areas typically frequented by visitors.
Now that sports are retaking the field, venue managers are attempting to evict wildlife – with mixed results. As a result, they’re turning to professionals who come armed with traps, spray deterrents and even border collies.
And that has driven an enormous uptick in business for those vendors.
“We have overall had an increased demand for our goose product this year,” said Billy Hackett, Product Manager for Flight Control Plus, a chemical deterrent mainly used for Canada geese. “While there was a definite drop-off in sales when the pandemic initially caused school and business closures back in late April and May, sales have increased steadily since then.”
And one of the areas wildlife have begun to frequent are sports facilities. Canada geese in particular seek out open grassy areas with nearby water sources, and will flock there to camp and eat for hours. (With some reports putting the per-goose grass input at up to four pounds per day and the, uh, output at up to two pounds per day, it’s easy to see why venue managers want them out. Additionally, their aggressiveness is the stuff of legends).
Geese, for better or for worse, are a protected species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (and they appear to know it). This protection applies to both resident and migratory geese. Neither individuals nor governmental entities may launch lethal control efforts without the proper federal, state, and (if needed) local permits.
Therefore, venue operators have resorted to a number of environmentally-friendly and non-harmful techniques. One of the more in-demand is the use of specially-trained border collies to chase off the critters.
Chris Santopietro, owner and founder of Geese Relief, typically brings in one dog to cover a one-venue area. That, he says, is all that is needed.
“Typically, one dog can get the job done,” he notes. “These are working dogs and they love to be out doing this.”
Border collies use their herding instincts to chase deer, who take flight, thinking the dog is a predator. Santopietro has contracts with businesses ranging from park and rec departments to cemeteries to sports facilities – and he believes nothing works better than a dog.
Of course, geese – while certainly a common problem – are not the only wildlife on the scene. Deer are an enormous issue in green space and open areas; fortunately, they are skittish and easily frightened away by humans.
In some areas, smaller animals have set up shop in parks and outdoor sports venues, leading managers to call on trappers for assistance. One of those is Robert Mumma who owns Trapper Bob’s Wildlife Control Removal.
“I have noticed an increase in wildlife calls,” he notes. “It’s been a mixture of groundhogs, skunks and raccoons – and some foxes.”
If venue operators decide to take matters into their own hands, there are important considerations. The USGA notes, for example, that many states have laws governing the capture and transport of wild animals (even nuisance wildlife like raccoons and skunks), and in many places, it is illegal to move animals, once trapped, off the property on which they were caught – setting up an ethical dilemma. The fact that humane traps can be purchased easily does not negate the laws. (Professional trappers, who have permits to do their work, are another matter).
Pigeons and other pest avian species have long been the bane of stadium managers, and a lack of crowd and groundskeeper activity in such venues for several weeks – during breeding season, no less – created even more problems. (Fun fact: During the pandemic, animal rights groups became concerned that pigeons would starve because they were deprived of their sustenance in public areas).
Of course, no discussion of sports venues and pest animals is complete without mentioning ground-dwelling critters like groundhogs and gophers – including the one that caused Bill Murray’s character so much grief in Caddyshack.
At the Maryland SoccerPlex, executive director Matt Libber has his own version of this scenario.
“We have the fattest groundhog I have ever seen living on the property somewhere, and it likes to dig holes on our stadium field,” says Libber. “We keep trying to capture him, but he is shockingly fast and apparently kinda smart. I wouldn’t say that is pandemic-related; it’s more that the groundhog is a jerk.”