For more than 20 years, the banks of the Charles River have been home to a large flock
of geese. A flock, which, over the years has tragically reduced in number because of a
series of man-made fiascos and deliberate attacks.
The present nesting area of the Charles River white geese is at the corner of the Boston
University Bridge and the eastbound Memorial Drive. It is an open space the size of a
small baseball pitch beside the river. It serves as a home to around eighty beautiful white
and brown geese, ducks, swans and other urban wildlife. The geese are tall, majestic and
The original flock was brought to live at the Cambridge branch of the Massachusetts
Water Resources Authority in 1970s. They acted as guards, alerting workers to
trespassers. When their services were no longer required, they went to live on the banks
of the river.
“ There are three basic breeds,” said Bob La Trémouille, 67, an environmental activist and
a lawyer. “ They’ re White China, Emden and Toulose geese. But there’ re been so much
intermixing that they’ re all hybrids now.”
During mating season, a number of females can be spotted sitting on nests
hidden behind the mossy maples and oaks or camouflaged in the knee length brown
grass. The area used to be a dense,
wild thicket with dandelions, weeds and blackberry brambles. But authorities have been
clearing out the foliage as part of a larger project of beautifying the riverbank.
“ We used to have a beautiful green meadow with an excellent variety of plants and
animals, but BU and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) destroyed
it,” said La Trémouille. La Trémouille and Marilyn Wellons, a resident of Cambridge
are co-chairs of Friends of the White Geese, a non-profit organized in 2000 to protect
the environment on the Charles River. They have been spearheading the campaign to
save the geese. “ The DCR routinely, twice a year since 1999, destroy vegetation which
is needed for migrating waterfowl, except for a bizarre wall of introduced vegetation that
was put in at Magazine Beach in 2004.,” said La Trémouille
Magazine Beach, which lies just west of the BU Bridge on the Cambridge side of the
river, was the geese’ s original home. The DCR’ s introduced vegetation had considerable
difficulty surviving because it was not indigenous to the Charles River. “ It kept dying
on them at first,” said La Trémouille. “ It has since grown into a wall which has kept the
geese from feeding there.”
Geese are vegetarian and ordinarily their main food is grass and weeds. Since the
vegetation in their environment was destroyed, the geese received food from
local charities and supermarkets like Trader Joe’ s and Harvest.
In 2004, the Charles River Urban Wilds Initiative, Inc was formed. CRUWI, headed by
Bill Naumann, is the tax-exempt organization feeding the Charles River White Geese
and other needy animals. Bill Naumann, a Cambridge-based independent business and
financial consultant, and his wife Allison Blyler, a creative writing instructor at Boston
University feed the geese twice every day.
“ They eat cracked corn, oats, bread and greens,” said Marilyn Wellons.
There are white boxes containing remnants of grains and lettuce hidden in the grass. The
geese have been helping themselves. This meadow, bordered by the Charles River on
one side and graffitied, concrete embankments on the other three, has become a suitable
enclosure for the geese, ducks, migrating swans and other waterfowl. Unfortunately,
according to the Friends of The White Geese, they are in danger of losing this home too.
“ The DCR’ s plans to repair the BU Bridge include a “rehabilitation” of the storm water
system,” said Wellons. “ If it goes through, it will destroy the surrounding environment.
However, this “rehabilitation” actually increases its footprint–the area of ground it
covers–rather than conform to the existing one.”
Friends of the White Geese has been working to save the geese for a decade.
“ The damage that has been inflicted on their habitat is outrageous,” said La
Trémouille “ In Fall 2008 the DCR dug up Magazine Beach to put in playing fields. They
don’ t like natural maintenance, they like fertilizer maintenance, which will, of course
poison the animals.”
La Trémouille knows some of the geese by their whimsical names such as Brown Beauty,
Pinky and Little Gray, but says that because he has not been the one feeding them since
CRUWI was formed, he lost track. “ The females are smaller,” he said, pointing to one
sitting on a nest made of dry leaves and feathers. “ They tend to
have bald spots on the back of their neck. That is part of the mating; the male gets on top
and pecks the back of her head.”
When asked what the DCR wanted to do with the goose meadow, La Trémouille said
they wanted to turn it into a park. “ They’ re offended by nature,” h said emphatically.
The banks of the Charles River provide a window into the urban wild. “ We have every
intention of protecting the Charles River white geese and other wildlife currently being
starved by state and local governments,” said La Trémouille.