The changing natural world at our doorsteps | By Patterson Clark
September 28, 2010
A mushroom's cloud
In early fall pastures, playgrounds and unmown yards, the mature fruiting bodies of purple-spored puffballs are whispering "kick me."
In dry weather, a tap of the foot to the dried-out spongy mushroom will liberate a fog of dark purple spores.
Finer than talcum powder, the spores rise and drift with air currents that could deposit them thousands of miles away.
Each "smokeball" may produce billions of spores, each a single cell measuring about 1/200th of a millimeter in diameter (slightly smaller than a red blood cell).
Should a spore land on the soil in a warm, moist spot, it will swell and begin absorbing decaying plant matter. A successful spore will divide into long chains of cells. Food availability and climate will determine how many months or years the mass of threadlike cells must grow before reaching maturity.
During warm, moist summer spells, a mature underground network of the fungus will concentrate in spots and send up little cheeselike puffballs, which will expand, dry out and release a billion new spores by early autumn.
Sources: "The Mushroom Book," Nina L. Marshall; Wayne P. Armstrong, Palomar College; Fungi Perfecti
October 5, 2010
An animal's final escort
Lonnie Wade Jr. was born and raised in the District.
His father, formerly a South Carolina farmer, "brought the farm to the city," says Wade, who grew up in the NoMa/Sursum Corda neighborhood, tending
hogs, rabbits, chickens
and pigeons. The family even had a smokehouse.
Fall weather yields fewer calls for Lonnie Wade Jr., and the cooler air gives him an extended grace period, but before his targets get too rank, he must thread his orange truck through city streets in response to requests for dead animal pickup.
Wade, 56, was a furniture mover for 30 years before he took a pay cut just so he could have the job. That was six years ago.
It's a good fit for Wade. He has had a lifetime of experience with animals and wants to be of service. "I have a lot of love for my work," he says, "and have no intention of changing jobs."
Wade often knocks on the doors of the addresses that called in the request, either to get help in locating the animal or to acknowledge that he has picked up a beloved pet that someone has boxed or bagged and placed at the curb.
"I will sit and pray with people who are in pain over the loss of their loved ones," he says. "Sometimes that dog or cat was all they had."
Wade also has compassion for the numerous fly-covered rats he removes from behind dumpsters, under cars or out of the gutter. "They were just trying to live their lives like the rest of us," he says. "I feel for them."
Wade has picked up the remains of foxes, snakes, opossums, raccoons, birds, deer -- even a tiny pet goldfish. On rare occasions, he'll deliver an animal's corpse to the morgue for a police investigation.
Skip the following paragraph if you're squeamish:
During the warm months, flies always seem to get to the animal first, and the carcass may be alive with maggots by the time Wade is on the scene. If body fluids have leaked out onto the sidewalk or street, Wade sanitizes the stains with bleach. "We don't want children touching that, or dogs licking it," he says. Wade scoops up most carcasses with a pitchfork, but he has shovels, a broom and white coveralls for bigger jobs, such as deer.
Deer frequently get hit by cars, but fences take their toll. "Sometimes a deer will stick its head through the bars of an iron fence, the rest of it can't squeeze through, and then its head gets stuck," says Wade. More gruesome are the failed attempts of deer trying to leap over spiked or barbed-wire fences.
The pickup truck
The Department of Public Works operates two trucks to transport animal carcasses, which are collected from public property, placed in sanitized barrels, refrigerated during transit and frozen at day's end. A private contractor cremates the remains.
It's difficult to pin down why some parts of the city generate more requests for dead animal pickup than do others. People who are more closely connected to their neighborhoods may be more likely to notice a carcass and call it in.
Wade suggests that vehicular traffic may kill a lot of animals traveling between wooded areas. He notes that in some spots "people are sloppy with their cleaning," and strewn garbage attracts raccoons and rats. Certain restaurants and student group houses are notorious for that, he says.
"And anywhere there's construction," says Wade, "you find a lot of dead animals [nearby]. It stirs them up."
Sources: D.C. Department of Public Works; Nancee Lyons, DPW
Map by Dan Keating and M.K. Cannistra/The Washington Post
October 12, 2010
Harvesting ginkgo fruits: Breaking the stink barrier
Many area sidewalks are littered with the foul-smelling fruits of ginkgo trees. If carefully harvested, the fruits yield a nut meat that's edible in small amounts.
The downside of this ornamental tree is the tendency for female trees to drop stinky fruits. (The fan-shaped leaves are odor-free.)
About the size of cherries, the wrinkled pink-and-orange fruits of ginkgo exude very little odor if left unruptured. Freshly fallen fruits can be kept on a countertop for more than a week without smelling bad.
Exposed fruit flesh, however, releases a stench reminiscent of vomit or dog excrement. Compounding the misery, the skin's soft pulp also contains urushiol, the chemical in poison ivy that can launch skin blisters. People who harvest ginkgo fruits would be wise to wear rubber gloves.
Soaking fruits in hot water makes it easier to pop out the seed without having to wrestle for too long with the offensive skin.
Larger than pistachios but with thinner shells, the nuts are high in niacin, starch and protein, but low in fat. However, they also contain toxins.
Cooking them will break down bitter-tasting cyanogenic glycosides, but the nuts will retain the heat-resistant compound 4-methoxypyridoxine, which depletes vitamin B6. Children are especially susceptible to the toxin.
Roasted nuts are a translucent jade green with a soft, dense texture. They taste like a combination of edamame, potato and pine nut. Some people say they're reminiscent of chestnuts.
East Asians consider the nut a delicacy and use them in desserts, soups and with meats; but the Hong Kong government's Centre for Food Safety cautions people about the nut's toxicity, advising them "not to consume more than a few seeds at one time."
October 19, 2010
Norway maple: The wrong tree
Not all fall hues in Washington are local color.
In years past, as arborists hurried to replace the city's dying American elms, they often turned to exotic nonnative trees that possessed qualities that were -- at the time -- desirable.
The hardy, fast-growing Norway maple was a favorite choice. Miles of District streets are flanked with them. But their aggressive growing habits and prolific seeds have ruined their reputation: They are now considered an invasive plant.
"I'm constantly pulling these things out of my back yard," says Mark Buscaino, executive director of Casey Trees, a nonprofit organization that works to improve D.C.'s tree canopy.
"Their root mass is so tight that nothing will grow undeneath," says Buscaino. Cutting down the trees won't kill them, he explains: "They store so much starch in the roots that they'll
keep sending up sprouts for years."
That tight root mass can sometimes be the tree's undoing, says Casey Trees urban forestry manager David DiPietro. "If planted
in tight spots, the roots can encircle the trunk." This is called girdling, and it strangles the tree, cutting off the flow of starch from the leaves to the roots. The roots die, cutting off water to
Self-destruction isn't a problem for the tree when it escapes to open spaces. Rock Creek Park biologist Ken Ferebee often sees Norway maples at the edge of the park, where the seeds have blown in from nearby neighborhoods: The saplings "can grow pretty densely," he says. "In some areas, that's about the only thing there."
Sources: Casey Trees, Rock Creek Park, District Department of Transportation.
Map by M.K. Cannistra/The Washington Post.
October 26, 2010
Bats: Halloween's angels
While many other bat species have gone into hibernation, robust big brown bats may still be out hunting for treats on Halloween night.
Recovering from an age-old image problem of being miscast in the company of malevolent witches, monsters and ghouls, bats are in fact do-gooders.
"Bats are such an important part of agricultural pest control," says John Griffin, who helps resolve wildlife conflict issues in the Washington area for Humane Wildlife Services, an arm of the Humane Society of the United States. On top of that, Griffin says, "bats reduce our exposure to mosquitoes carrying blood-borne diseases, such as West Nile virus."
Of course, people don't like finding bats roosting in their attics. "If they are not in a living space, they aren't really a problem," Griffin says.
Large colonies and long-term occupation can cause a buildup of guano, which in some environments promotes the growth of a fungus that can cause a lung disease. Attics tend to be a poor environment for the fungus.
Although rabies in bats is rare, people are cautioned to never handle a bat.
Big brown bats and little brown bats are the most common species found in house attics. Little browns tend to migrate to caves, where they hibernate in constant, cool temperatures. But the hardier big browns are able to withstand freezing temperatures and often stay put in buildings, sometimes emerging from their torpor for a drink of water during winter warm spells.
Homeowners who want bats out of their attics can hire Humane Wildlife Services to locate any spots where bats may be entering and install check valves, netting that allows bats to leave but prevents them from reentering. After all bats have departed, HWS will seal any openings, bat-proofing the house. If a homeowner still wants the mosquito-devouring mammals around -- just not in their attic -- HWS will put up an outdoor bat house for an additional fee.
Griffin doesn't recommend installation of check valves between March and September. That's when dependent young bats might be inside, waiting for their mothers to return.
White nose syndrome is a disease that is decimating cave-hibernating bat populations in the Northeast. First described in New York four years ago, the disease has rapidly spread as far north as Ontario and as far west as Oklahoma. Of the country's 25 species of hibernating bats, six have been affected by the disease (including big brown and little brown bats) and another three species have been detected with the fungus, which covers the nose of affected bats.
Diseased bats show compromised immune systems, damaged wings and abnormal behavior during hibernation -- emerging from their caves too early, depleting their fat reserves and either freezing or starving to death..
November 2, 2010
Virginia creeper lets its fruit flag fly
As autumn nears its midpoint, Virginia creeper leaves turn brilliant red, a signal for nomadic birds to stop for an in-flight meal.
If "leaves of three, let it be" is good advice for poison ivy, then "leaves of five, let it thrive" should be the maxim for Virginia creeper.
The native vine plays a major role in feeding fruit-eating songbirds on their way south, especially thrushes, gray catbirds and common yellowthroats.
Leaves turn red just as the blue-gray fruits ripen. The plant may rely on this foliar fruit flag to alert migrating birds to a food opportunity. Timing is critical: The fruits are high in lipids (fats), which don't stay fresh for long.
While birds may wolf down the berries, people shouldn't follow suit, as the fruits are potentially toxic to humans.
The leaves aren't so people-friendly, either. When they are bruised, specialized cells rupture, releasing irritating microscopic needles of calcium oxalate, which can trigger contact dermatitis.
Scaling trees, rocks and houses, Virginia creeper secures itself with tendrils tipped with tiny pads that cement themselves to vertical surfaces.
A creeper-covered brick wall will stay cool in the summer, the masonry undamaged by the vine's tendrils. Wood siding, however, will rot in the humid environment harbored by the vine.
Sources: Edmund W. Stiles, "Patterns of fruit presentation and seed dispersal in bird-disseminated woody plants in the eastern deciduous forest," the American Naturalist; USDA; "Interactions between passerines and woody plants at a migratory stop-over site: Fruit consumption and the potential for seed dispersal," Claramarie Moss, University of Virginia
November 9, 2010
Rut and consequences
Deer breeding frenzy reaches its zenith in mid-November.
It's that time of year when white-tailed deer abandon their offspring and their usual cautious habits and think only of sex.
Short days and cool temperatures will trigger a mature doe into a 24-hour period of fertility. Her powerful chemical signals cause other does to shun her and bucks to pursue her. Until she's impregnated, she will have other windows of estrus every month or so.
During the peak of the rut, the wheezing, snorting, grunting bucks are so preoccupied with mating and fighting each other over females that they neglect to eat or rest.
Bucks mark their territories by scraping away leaves from the ground and scenting the area with urine and secretions from glands on their foreheads, legs and feet. Leading up to the rut, bucks rub their racks into the trunks of saplings, stripping the felt from their antlers and shredding bark off the trees.
A hundred years ago, after decades of deforestation and unrestricted hunting, deer were a rare sight in Washington. Conservation efforts, a lack of predators and improved deer habitat have since allowed deer to rebound into an overabundance that now suppresses the ability of local forests to regenerate. Deer consume the tree seedlings that, in a balanced ecosystem, would replace older trees.
By overgrazing native plants, deer also encourage the spread of exotic invasive weeds, which they tend to avoid.
To maintain the health of its forests, Rock Creek Park recommends reducing its deer population. The park released a draft of its plan in 2009, gathered public comment and is now preparing an analysis that will be released by spring 2011. The draft suggests alternatives that include repellents, fenced exclosures, sterilization, birth control by dart, capture with euthanasia -- even sharpshooters.
Sources: Ken Ferebee, Rock Creek Park; University of Michigan; "Draft White-Tailed Deer Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement," Rock Creek Park; USDA; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
November 16, 2010
Shadows of decay
Freshly poured this past summer, concrete now serves as a printing surface for fallen leaves.
As autumn progresses, deciduous trees dismantle the chlorophyll molecules in their leaves to retrieve valuable nitrogen and magnesium ions. Those precious components are ferried through leaf stalks, down through inner bark tissues and into the roots for winter storage. Other molecules, however, aren't worth a recovery effort, so they're left aboard and go down with the leaf.
Tannins are among the chemical casualties. In a living leaf, they may be present in surface wax or inside cell vacuoles, which are microscopic water balloons that isolate tannins from the cell's protoplasm.
Tannins often serve as part of a plant's chemical arsenal. Unless an animal has neutralizing compounds in its digestive system, its attempt to chew or digest a tannin-laden leaf may be a bitter or sickening experience. (Milder tannins impart desirable flavors to fruits, nuts, tea, wine and chocolate.)
When leaves begin to decay, cells rupture and tannins flow among the wreckage. Rain plastering a fallen leaf to the sidewalk will soak through the leaf's collapsed tissues, transporting tannins into the concrete, where they're held as a crisp, brown stain.
The sun emerges, a gust of wind carries off the leaf, a tannin print remains -- until it runs and blurs in the next autumn rain.Sources: Cornell University Department of Animal Science; David Hershey; Ross Koning, Eastern Connecticut State University; Harold McGee, "On food and cooking: the science and lore of the kitchen"
November 23, 2010
Tales of three turkeys
Wild turkeys can run 25 mph and fly twice that. What modern farm birds do fastest is gain weight.
As human clans gather for the holidays, wild turkey families split apart. Young males have left the brood, but their sisters will stick with mom for the winter. Dad gobbler was never part of the family -- just a fleeting spring fling for the hen.
By autumn, turkeys have moved into the deep woods, where they wander in flocks and fatten up on acorns and other tree fruits.
Native Americans managed their forests to accommodate large populations of wild turkeys, which were an important source for food and feathers for adornment.
A radical transformation of the American landscape had almost eradicated wild turkeys by the 1930s. Since then, protection, reforestation and restocking efforts have made them plentiful enough to hunt again.
Turkeys were domesticated by the Aztecs in Mexico long before Spaniards arrived in the mid-1500s. Shipped back to Europe, the birds became a common barnyard animal.
Hundreds of years of breeding resulted in a wide variety of turkey breeds. About a dozen of these "heritage" breeds are still raised but make up less than 1 percent of today's market.
One such breed is the Narragansett, descended from a cross between wild turkeys and domestic turkeys brought back across the Atlantic by European colonists in the 1600s. Like other heritage breeds, they can fly, live outdoors and breed naturally. They need time to fully develop their skeletons and organs before building muscle mass, and may be more than 2 years old by the time
they're ready for the market.
Most supermarket turkeys are a special industrial-agriculture breed known as the broad-breasted white, which rapidly converts its feed into meat in only 14 to 18 weeks.
Poorly formed bones and organs can result in crippling deformities and metabolic disorders in the birds. Their bulk renders them incapable of flying. Although the turkeys are capable of mating, artificial insemination is used for the sake of safety and efficiency.
Once a year, since 1989, one of these champions receives a "pardon" of its death sentence from the president of the United States. Previous pardoned birds have served as honorary grand marshals at Disney Thanksgiving Day parades, but this year's pampered bird will be sent to Mount Vernon.
Sources: West Virginia Department of Natural Resources; National Wild Turkey Federation; American Livestock Breeds Conservancy; Heritage Turkey Foundation;
the Humane Society of the United States; staff reports; National Turkey Federation
November 30, 2010
Powdery mildew: A leaf parasite hunkers down for the winter
People raking their yards may notice the occasional leaf blanketed with a white frosting of powdery mildew.
Not the same mold found growing on basement walls and shower stalls, these fungi grow only on living plants. The cool nights and warm days of spring and fall encourage the fungus to spread across the surfaces of stems,fruits and leaves, into which the mildew sends tiny root-like pegs to
In addition to its spreading mat of fungal filaments, the mildew sprouts vertical threads tipped with vegetative spores, which are carried off by
breezes and deposited onto distant leaves -- or dropped farther out onto the same leaf.
Another strategy of infection involves the release
of sexual spores. Powdery mildew mats can grow directly from these reproductive cells, but before they can make sexual spores of their own, two mildew mats of the same kind must first connect
and fuse their cells and cell nuclei.
Some mildew mats can even join together their own nuclei -- effectively fertilizing themselves. Once that happens, autumn's cool temperatures trigger the formation of cleistothecia, tiny black spherical structures that bundle up sexual spores. These structures provide a winter refuge for the fungus.
If it isn't eaten by a tiny invertebrate, a cleistothecium will break open during warm spring weather. Sexual spores will emerge to drift away on air currents and will be lucky to land on a leaf they are capable of infecting.
Each of the many species of powdery mildew is very particular about which plants it will parasitize. The fungus on the leaf, left, didn't threaten the life of the tree, but it did obstruct the leaf's ability to photosynthesize.
December 7, 2010
Teasel: a runaway industrial plant
Rusty brown teasel heads are standouts in December's weedy pastures and roadsides.
In the early 1700s teasel was brought to the United States from Europe and grown for its seed heads, or combs, which were tied onto frames and brushed across woolen fabric to "tease," or raise a nap on, the cloth.
The comb's flexible spiny bracts were ideal for the task. As late as the mid-20th century, teasel combs were still clustered onto rotating drums in textile mills. Wire brushes now do the job.
These days, teasel raises only the ire of land managers, who consider teasel an invasive plant that can outcompete native vegetation. Three species of teasel now range from coast to coast.
Seeds germinate easily in sunny, poorly drained soil. The plant's first year is spent as a deepening taproot that feeds a large rosette of leaves. In the spring of its second and final year, teasel sends up a flower stalk topped with a bristly green head encircled by a ring of small pink flowers. By the first week of December, the seed head will have dropped as many as 2,000 seeds, most landing within five feet of the plant.
Studying possible biological control of the weed, scientists have identified more than 100 organisms that prey on teasel in its native Eurasian range.
A mite, a flea beetle, a leaf-mining fly and a sawfly show the most promise for keeping teasel under control. Those arthropods first need to go through a battery of studies, some under quarantine to make sure they won't attack any crops or plants native to North America.
"The teasel biological control program has been underway for about seven years," says USDA entomologist Brian G. Rector. It may be several more years before a teasel predator is released. "It's rare that a single agent acts as a 'silver bullet,'" says Rector, so more than one bug may be needed to do the job.
An industrial teasel gig is displayed in Britain's Trowbridge Museum, where visitors can study the history of woolen cloth production. (Photo from Trowbridge Museum)
December 14, 2010
Bedbugs: Abominable holiday hitchhikers
Before nestling into unfamiliar beds, seasonal travelers may want to acquaint themselves with the habits of a resurgent pest.
Bedbugs almost disappeared in the United States in the last half of the 20th century, with most of us knowing them only as dark characters from this bedtime rhyme: "Good night. Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite."
Easier said than done now that bedbug infestations are rising at an alarming rate. Some experts surmise that an increase in travel, lapsed public control programs and the bug's resistance to pesticides may be to blame.
These "human nest parasites" mostly stay hidden in cracks and crevices until the early morning hours, when they emerge to scurry over their hosts, stealthily piercing the skin with their long beaks to gorge on blood. Bites often appear as rows of red dots, which may swell into itchy dermatitis -- but some people never know they've been bitten.
People can pick up bedbugs while traveling, potentially introducing bugs into their homes. Bedbugs are notorious for crawling into luggage, clothing and books, where they'll hitch a ride to a new locale.
Should you discover bedbugs in your home, "the first rule is don't overreact," says Eddie Connor, manager of Connor's Pest Control in Springfield. Two actions can further spread the bugs, he says: "Moving furniture to another room is a bad idea. That will only spread the problem." The other misstep: using bug bombs to try to kill the bugs. "Those can be dangerous and ineffective," Connor says. An Environmental Protection Agency Web page agrees: "Foggers and bug bombs do not control bedbugs."
Connor's solution is one that a growing number of pest-contol services are finding effective: dogs and heaters.
Highly trained canine search teams have proved to be 98 percent accurate in confirming and pinpointing the extent of an infestation. Connor uses small, energetic dogs that are able to navigate behind and under furniture. His company's beagle, Jack Russell terrier and puggle can each search as many as 130 rooms a day.
Once an infestation is mapped, rooms are vacuumed and the contents are arranged so that heaters boosting the room's temperature to about 134 degrees for three hours will penetrate bedbug hiding spots and kill the suckers.
The technique may work well for single-family homes, but apartments and hotels are more of a challenge. Bedbugs use hollow walls and cracks in masonry as avenues to spread into other units.
In those instances, pest-contol experts recommend tandem treatments. Diatomaceous earth, a natural powder, is blown into wall spaces, where it can cause any bedbug that comes in contact with it to eventually dry out and perish.
While bedbugs aren't known to transmit disease, they can "affect the mental health of people living in infested homes," according to a joint statement this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the EPA. Reported effects "include anxiety, insomnia and skin problems that arise from profuse scratching."
Bug-avoidance tips for travelers
- Inspect your room before settling in. Turn back the bedding to look for dark fecal spots left by bedbugs in mattress seams and behind the headboard.
- If you see signs of an infestation, alert the management and ask to be moved to another room that isnt adjacent to the infestation.
- Store your suitcase on the luggage rack, off the floor and away from the bed. Keep your belongings in your suitcase.
- When returning home, leave luggage outside or in the garage. Remove clothing and wash and dry it in a hot dryer for 20 minutes.
- If luggage must be brought inside, seal it in a heavy plastic bag.
Sources: Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Urban Pests, Integrated Pest Management Practitioner, Medical and Veterinary Entomology, World Health Organization, Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force, Journal of Economic Entomology, D.C. Department of Health
December 21, 2010
About that Christmas goose . . .
An explosive population becomes an abundant harvest.
Winter hunting season is underway for resident Canada geese, abundant, non-native waterfowl that linger year-round in the Washington area.
"For the love of all that is holy, please eat them," blogs Jackson Landers, a Virginia hunting instructor, author and guide who promotes harvesting invasive species for food. Resident Canada geese "represent a tremendous amount of underutilized food," he writes.
The big geese are originally from the Midwest but were shipped to the East Coast in the early 1900s by hunters, who tethered them to the ground as lures for smaller migratory geese.
"That ended in 1935, when it became illegal to use live decoys," says Larry Hindman of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The decoy birds were released and soon began their population explosion, grazing on and fouling golf courses and suburban lawns, and damaging turf farms and agricultural fields.
To help control a population that is twice as large as wildlife managers would prefer, government agencies have adopted more-liberal hunting guidelines. As a result, the resident goose population has been steadily decreasing in rural areas but continues to increase where hunting is not an option.
Anyone on the hunt for geese, whether by bow and arrow, shotgun or even their bare hands, must first attend hunter safety classes and get a hunting license. Buying a killed Canada goose is not an option: Unless it comes from a licensed breeder, the sale of waterfowl is illegal.
Urban geese are relatively safe from hunters unless they threaten to collide with aircraft. That's when the feds step in and transform a hazard into a harvest. The Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services program donates goose carcasses "to food banks, large animal rescue/rehabilitation groups and zoos," says the USDA's Michael Begier.
In 2009, the USDA donated more than a ton of goose flesh in the Maryland-Delaware-Washington area, says the USDA's Carol Bannerman. One recipient, the Maryland Food Bank, distributed 325 pounds of ground goose and goose chubs (stew meat) to food pantries and food kitchens across the state.
"It's a wonderful resource for protein," says the food bank's Nancy Smith. "We are absolutely thrilled. Not many people donate protein."
Demand is high. "This is the first time in 32 years that we've seen middle-class families using food pantries," she says. Goose meat "flies off the shelves as soon as it's available."
Some people find goose donations unpalatable. Sharon Pawlak, for the Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese, says, "Donating goose meat to food pantries is nothing more than a public relations ploy to justify the cruel and unnecessary slaughter of so-called nuisance geese." She also has concerns about feeding potentially toxic meat to people who tend to suffer more health problems than other groups.
Eating a goose can pose a health hazard if the bird has been dabbling in polluted waters. Waterfowl can accumulate heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), especially in their fat.
Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources recommends eating no more than a half-pound of urban goose per week: "The geese must be trimmed of all fat, either baked or broiled, and no drippings should be used in sauces." That preparation, the department says, should remove 50 to 80 percent of fat-soluble contaminants.
Before releasing goose meat, the USDA tests it for toxins. "The meat is often distributed widely so that no one family or location would be reliant on this meat," says Bannerman.
Donated geese are hard to find in the District. "We do get deer meat," says Samia Holloway of the Capital Area Food Bank, "but geese, no."
The same goes for Northern Virginia's Food for Others. The only wild game handed out there is venison, supplied by Hunters for the Hungry, headquartered in Big Island, Va.
Hunters for the Hungry doesn't deal with many geese. "The problem," spokesman Gary Arrington says, "is finding processors for the birds. It's just not cost-effective." But if they do hear of a farmer or golf course with a permit to eliminate a flock, they recommend direct donations to soup kitchens, churches or food pantries that are able to prepare a few freshly killed birds.
"Killing an animal is always a sad thing," says harvesting advocate Landers, "but eating it at least gives the act some real point and meaning."
Sources: Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries