By 6:30 a.m. last Thursday, David Karopkin and his gaggle of geese lovers had already been at Prospect Park for at least an hour, diligently patrolling the lakeside for signs of Canada geese, taking stock of their numbers and health.
It is an early morning ritual that has become regular for Karopkin and a handful of other local geese enthusiasts. The federal government may have to come for Prospect Park’s diminutive Canada goose population this year—but isn’t taking any chances.
“We want to trust the USDA, but verify,” said Karopkin, echoing the signature phrase of President Ronald Reagan. “The city should be here protecting the geese, but they aren’t. So that job falls to us.”
Initially, if the United States Department of Agriculture had indeed arrived to commit another mass extermination of the park’s geese, Goose Watch had planned to send out a mass text message and phone call to an army of supporters, who would then descend noisily upon the park in hopes of scaring off the geese. Goose Watch had dutiful volunteers stationed around the park throughout the midnight hours when the park was closed—when the USDA would be most likely to strike again.
When the city announced that the USDA would not “cull” geese in Prospect Park this year—but would cull 700 to 800 geese in other parks around the city—most members of the Goose Watch moved on to protect the geese located elsewhere in the city, like Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens.
But Karopkin and a band of 10 or so other ragtag geese lovers decided to stay on and protect their home turf, Prospect Park.
“We don’t just want to stand there,” said Karopkin, a petite paralegal. “We want to make sure that these geese are safe in the hours when no one else is watching. I really couldn’t live with being fast asleep while something happens to these geese.”
“It’s our park, we should be aware of what’s going on with the wildlife in it,” added Tia Foster, 27. “We don’t want out park turned into a slaughterhouse.”
Beginning as early as 4 or 5 a.m. each morning, one or more members of Goose Watch head to the park to take stock of the geese population. They count the geese (their last count was 34) and talk to other early morning park goers about the importance of keeping them safe, and particularly the importance of not feeding them.
They are there almost every morning, but when someone can’t make it, a member of the Goose Watch is sure to stop by in the afternoon and check in on the geese. They see it as their bleary-eyed duty, some getting up at the crack of dawn to “patrol” before work, others, like Foster, stopping by to check in on the geese after a late night working as a bartender.
The Goose Watch hopes to prevent at all costs the repetition of last summer’s middle of the night goose eradication, in which the United States Department of Agriculture rounded up and gassed nearly 400 park geese. But they also hope to protect the geese from less might enemies, like park goers who might consider eating them for dinner.
“I was here walking my dog one morning, and I actually heard one woman say to her husband, ‘I’m going to bag one of these for dinner,’” said Rina Deych, 55, a registered nurse.
Karopkin and company plan to keep watch over the geese at least until they finish molting—the process during which geese shed their feathers and grow new ones, rendering them unable to fly and particularly vulnerable to attack.
“They made a mistake coming to this park last year, they woke a sleeping giant,” said Karopkin. “We’re not satisfied just letting this happen.”
Karopkin and Deych said that they each log between five and 10 hours a week in the park, watching over the geese. Karopkin has a map with locations pinpointed where he is most likely to catch a glimpse of his feathered friends.
“We understand the limitations of what we can really do. We’re aware that we won’t be able to stop them if they USDA did come,” said Karopkin. “We can’t be everywhere, but we can be here. We want to get this situation noticed, and get other people out in their parks. ”
He added: “What we’re really building is a coalition of the appalled.”