Woodland Meadows homeowners are flocking to two sides of an issue that some say is a wild goose chase.
In fact, the argument is about geese and ducks, and whether they are welcome any more at a small lake that has long attracted them to the westside neighborhood.
In a petition signed by 215 people that went out to Woodland Meadows' residents and members of the neighborhood association board, protesters said the board ignored their concerns and recently sprayed an area of the green belt with the so-called goose repellent Goose Chase.
Board President Bob Closs said Monday that the decision to spray a trial area of the lake was made on April 6 at an open meeting of the board.
"For us to put down expensive grass seed and for geese to go ahead and eat it doesn't make good business sense," Closs said.
He said he is not opposed to the geese at the lake, which is located at the corner of Longhorn Road and Payson Parkway. Closs said he moved to the area because of the birds and wildlife. But he said neighborhood residents should not feed the fowl.
"Our board policy all along is to let the geese take care of themselves," he said. "When these people feed them white bread, they're making these fowl welfare subjects. The people who signed the petition are bird feeders."
On Sunday, 11 of those who signed the petition got together at the Woodland Meadows home of Jerry and Betty Laird. They talked about the geese as if they were family members. Some said they have more pictures of their feathered friends than they have of their grandchildren.
Woodland Meadows residents have videos they've taken of the geese. And they know the family histories, which geese have been injured, which ones were dropped off or abandoned by previous unknown owners.
They remember how one Canadian goose was killed and how his mate cried and looked for him for days.
"A lot of people kill these animals and they don't know why," said Jim Duran. "They're beautiful, all these animals -- I love them."
The female goose, known as "Louise" or "Louie," is still a permanent resident of Woodland Meadows. She and her new mate, a domestic white goose, swam across the lake and showed off their new brood to the group that had gathered.
The residents "oooohed" and "aaaaahed" over the little yellow goslings that struggled to get out of the water to follow their parents up onto the grass behind the Lairds' home.
"The little ones already know how to get a handout," said Ernie Hubbard.
Barbi Morton talked about Louise's Canadian mate, who had been injured and unable to fly. It was 1990, and Louise and her mate stayed at Woodland Meadows year round, producing more and more offspring. Some of the young ones move on -- some go to the lakes at nearby Green Valley Park.
With her new mate, who is also unable to fly, Louise continues to stay at Woodland Meadows year round, producing eggs and goslings, many of whom fall victims to other wildlife.
A growing flock
Last year, there were 32 geese at the little lake at Woodland Meadows. "It keeps growing," Morton said.
But the goose-lovers are concerned about the neighborhood association board's efforts to rid the lake area of geese.
"We don't know what the effect of what they sprayed will be," said Betty Laird. "There's no threshold established."
Audrey Duran faulted the board for not listening to a majority of the people in Woodland Meadows.
The residents pay $100 a year for maintenance for the lake and the green belt. Some of the money previously went for feed for the birds.
"In the past, the board put $200 a year out for corn for the neighbors to feed them," Audrey Duran said.
No feeding, board says
The board no longer supports that policy.
"The thing we would really like to do is get people not to feed them," said board member D'Ann Holtsnider. "It's known that it's just not good for them to feed them."
Closs said he had an Arizona Game and Fish officer from Phoenix come out and speak to the homeowners at an earlier meeting about the negative aspects of feeding the geese.
"I think that's the big issue," Holtsnider said. "We don't want to get rid of the geese. The grass is expensive and as soon as it comes up, they eat it."
Closs said the board had planned to spray all the green belt area, but listened to the homeowners and stopped.
On May 10, the board had its maintenance man spray a portion of the green belt, about a quarter of an acre test area.
Closs said it was a decision the nine-member board made because it wanted to restore some of the grass. The board put in $1,000 worth of grass seed and fertilizer, he said.
"Several areas had dried up or were eaten by geese," he said. "Immediately after we sprayed, the geese went there and began to eat. It didn't work.
"What we think happened is, we didn't have it concentrated enough. We're thinking of doing it again. It's grape extract -- it's supposed to work -- it didn't."
"The Game and Fish biologist said they wouldn't like the taste or the smell," said Barbi Morton. "But they're eating it anyway. He said the jury is still out on the success and the effects of it."
The manufacturer, Bird-X of Chicago, Ill., calls the goose repellant the "world's first biodegradable food-grade repellent for turf and grass."
Leaving a bad taste
The manufacturer describes GooseChase as "a safe, food-grade taste aversion agent, made from a bitter tasting, smelly part of concord grapes (active ingredient methyl anthranilate). It renders food sources unpalatable and inedible to geese."
Bird-X also says that the substance is an environmentally safe alternative to lethal methods.
"We don't know what the long-lasting effects of the spray will be," said Betty Laird.
She tossed the remaining crumbs of bread to the waiting geese and watched as they waddled off towards the other side of the lake, apparently oblivious to the controversy that surrounded them in the little community of Woodland Meadows.