SLED’s handling of geese questioned at calm memorial service

jmonk@thestate.comMay 5, 2013 

— With strewn flowers, placards and questions, a dozen animal rights activists showed up at SLED headquarters Sunday afternoon to highlight what they called the needless running off of a mating pair of Canada geese and the destruction of their eggs.

“It’s not silly or stupid to care about animals — we care about our companion animals, dogs and cats, very, very much, and we probably spend more money on them than we do on ourselves sometimes,” said Rosemary Thompson, 41, of Columbia, a co-founder of the SC Animal Advocacy League.

“We are thinking today about getting people to think about the bigger picture — about wildlife, and our responsibilities to it.”

The 20-minute “memorial service” for the eggs was free of any name-calling or lambasting of SLED agents.

“We shouldn’t be angry at these brave men and women who work here at SLED,” said memorial service leader Keith Edwards, 62, of Columbia, a co-founder of the Animal Advocacy League.

“What happened here was a tragic mistake,” Edwards told fellow activists, who stood in the rain before a raised garden planter, clutching assorted flowers — tulips, lilies, carnations, daisies and irises.

Far too often, humans have reflexively fallen back on destroying wildlife rather than appreciating and nourishing nature’s diversity, Edwards said, recalling the once-flourishing but now-extinct Carolina parakeet.

“We are all part of nature; we all deserve to live,” Edwards said.

Another bird lover, Darleen Moak, 57, of Charleston, read the Emily Dickinson poem that begins, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul . . . ”

Thompson said she wanted to know why SLED spokesman Thom Berry had told a local television station recently that SLED officials liked the geese and the eggs when at the same time other SLED officials were taking steps to destroy the eggs and remove the geese.

In a widely aired news video, Berry had told the camera, “We now have them as part of the SLED family.” He added that most SLED employees were taking the geese “in stride and in good humor.” Berry even joshed that the geese could be given names like “Felony” and “Misdemeanor.”

Reached Sunday evening, Berry was asked if he knew that some SLED officials were planning to destroy the eggs at the time he was on television.

Berry said, “I’ll pass on that one.”

Thompson said the inconsistency between Berry’s public statements and SLED’s actual actions showed “a lack of transparency that is troubling.”

Thompson stressed she was not implying that Berry deliberately misled anyone, saying that an equally troubling aspect of the matter was that SLED didn’t go to the trouble of exploring alternatives.

“Killing them seemed to be the default solution,” she said. “Instead, SLED could have been an example of how to do this kind of thing properly at a time when so much habitat is disappearing.”

Berry said the two geese were not harmed but left SLED after the eggs were destroyed. On Friday, he told The State that the geese had become a nuisance and had “chased or bitten” SLED employees.

Edwards acknowledged SLED had the right to take action when the birds became bothersome.

“Something had to be done, but what was done was not necessary. It’s easier to kill something rather than manage it.”’

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344

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