By Michael King
The Post-Crescent, Appleton
LITTLE CHUTE (AP) — Outagamie County landfill officials are firing propane cannons and using inflatables to scare away an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 gulls that are feeding at the site and creating a neighborhood nuisance.
The efforts, initiated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services this summer, appear to be working, but will need to continue periodically over the winter and again next spring to avoid a repeat of the problems apartment residents east of the landfill experienced.
“They’re not necessarily a nuisance for the landfill but they’re causing a nuisance in the neighborhoods,” said Chip Lovell, district supervisor/wildlife biologist, USDA Wildlife Services, Waupun. “If they’re nesting on rooftops, a lot of the feathers and fecal material can be taken in by air conditioning units and plug up drains and vents.”
Outagamie County officials contacted Lovell after the manager of a nearby apartment building complained that the birds “sit on their roofs and make a mess,” said Supervisor Don DeGroot, a former village president.
DeGroot said that the opening of the northeast landfill segment near Holland Road in late 2011 has exacerbated the problem because the site now accepts garbage from three counties. The gulls use the landfill, along with farm fields and the Fox River, as a food source.
“There’s a lot more garbage coming in,” he said. “It is a problem. They definitely have a reason to complain.
“The landfill is covered every night by state law; the DNR requires us to do that. But during the daytime, there’s thousands of seagulls there and they roost on those apartment buildings and it’s a problem. So we’re trying to resolve it.”
While people often refer to the birds as seagulls, Lovell said the birds at the landfill are ring-billed and herring gulls. The ringbill gulls nest in large numbers, with hundreds of thousands in a colony.
Federal wildlife officials worked with the manager of the nearby apartment complex to install “spike stripes or lines” on the peaks of the buildings to prevent the gulls from roosting on the roof.
In September, officials mounted an inflatable “scary man” at the top of the landfill building to keep the gulls at bay and rigged four propane cannons to fire periodically during the day to scare the birds. Officials also occasionally use pyrotechnics, “which are devices similar to fireworks but are legal to use for wildlife harassment,” Lovell said.
“We know we’re not going to eliminate all gulls that use the landfill, but our goal is to reduce the numbers,” Lovell said. “We still do have a few birds hanging around all winter long as long as there’s open water in the river. But it will be hundreds rather than thousands.”
The efforts to control the gull population at the landfill will cost the county about $18,000 annually, said Philip Stecker, solid waste director. But the measures appear to be working.
“The numbers are greatly reduced,” Stecker said recently. “But we’re going to have to keep working, especially summertime next year.”
Added Lovell: “They’ll be back in the springtime.”