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Seattle battles to keep park greens free of goose poop
By Kathy F. Mahdoubi

On a grassy knoll of Gas Works Park on Wednesday, a small congregation of Canada geese looked on contentedly as a gaggle of humans noisily gathered to roll out what could prove to be their savior.

It's the Goose Goo Gone Machine, a patent-pending contraption on loan from Victoria, British Columbia-based company Naturesweep. And if its inventor, animal-welfare activists and city parks officials are right, it could mean the end of rounding up geese and killing them to keep local parks goose-poop free.

The city of Seattle is the first municipality in the United States to try out the device, a boxy little trailer with rotating bristles to pluck up the offensive droppings.

"It's basically a carpet sweeper for grass," said Ed Zylstra, the inventor and company co-founder.

The company is providing the device to the city for a free test drive as part of a program by Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation and the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) to find nonlethal ways to rid local green spaces of the fowl scat.

"There are ways to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts and coexist peacefully," said Mark Gross, who runs the goose program for PAWS. "We hope that this morphs into a permanent end to lethal removal."

According to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, about 70,000 Canada geese call Washington home. And each one can leave behind as much as 5 pounds of waste a day, rendering many parks and beaches unuseable by people. The turf war came to a head from 2000 to 2003, when thousands of geese were rounded up and killed. Finally, a truce was declared in 2004, when PAWS and the city Parks Department established the Goose Program to try to find nonlethal options.

Zylstra, a welder by trade, said he invented the machine after goose droppings kept kids on the soccer team he coached from playing on Victoria's fields.

The 4-foot-by-4-foot trailer is towed behind a small lawn tractor and has a gas-powered motor that turns nylon bristles to "tickle" the grass without damaging it. The droppings and other debris go into a hopper made of a special plastic that can withstand the nitrogen-laden droppings.

Monday at Gas Works, Zylstra drove the tractor up and down the edge of Lake Union to show off his invention as the geese honked in apparent approval. After his brief spin, the hopper was not only full of poop, but also old turf plugs, cigarette butts and spent fireworks. Zylstra claims it can also pick up lighters, bottle caps and more sinister litter such as dirty syringes.

If the city ends up liking the Goose Goo Gone machine, it could buy them for about $13,000 apiece, or less if they buy a bunch of them at once. Zylstra said he would donate some of the proceeds to PAWS.

Barbara DeCaro, a Seattle Parks Department manager, acknowledged that the price may seem steep. But she said that having poop-free parks would be worth it. "Mechanizing our grounds labor is a huge benefit," DeCaro said.

"It's just really much more efficient."

Kathy F. Mahdoubi: 206-464-8292 or kmahdoubi@seattletimes.com
 

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