40 Years of Environmental Advocacy

40 Years of Protecting the Places We Share

Let’s honor our past and commit to protecting our future by tackling important issues together. Every donation helps; $65 saves one Ash tree from invasive pests, a gift of $500 allows us to monitor a Swim Guide site all summer long, and a gift of $1,000 sends our policy team to Raleigh to advocate for a better future in the Southern Blue Ridge.

Please contact Development and Operations Coordinator Amy Finkler (amy@mountaintrue.org) if you’re having trouble donating.

We’re counting on you

Your support helps us do what we’re most passionate about — protecting the places we share. MountainTrue is your champion, working alongside you and other environmental organizations to protect and improve the quality of our environment. We take a two-pronged approach, working at both the grassroots and policy levels.

At home

Our four regional offices allow the MountainTrue team to assume a hyper-local approach to our work, focusing on issues that matter most to you.

In Raleigh

Our staff advocates for state-wide policy changes in Raleigh as well as with elected officials in our cities, towns, and counties. 

In our communities

Our Healthy Communities Program advocates for vibrant, thriving urban and rural communities with equitable access to affordable housing. 

On the rivers

With four in-house riverkeepers looking after the BroadFrench Broad, Green, and Watauga rivers, MountainTrue is its own ecosystem of water defenders and protectors. 

In the forests

Our Public Lands team monitors timber sales on over one million acres of public land to ensure old-growth stands, water quality, and sensitive ecosystems in these ancient mountain forests are protected. 

In biodiverse habitats

We help to restore native plant and animal habitats by safely treating and removing nonnative invasive species, because abundant, thriving native biodiversity is our best defense against climate change.

MountainTrue’s Chris Joyell Writes About Housing, Open Space, and Climate Change in MTX

MountainTrue’s Chris Joyell Writes About Housing, Open Space, and Climate Change in MTX

MountainTrue’s Chris Joyell Writes About Housing, Open Space, and Climate Change in MTX

In this Mountain Xpress Contributor Piece, MountainTrue Healthy Communities Program Director Chris Joyell explains the undeniable connection between housing and the integrity of our natural environment. Joyell discusses how Buncombe County’s Open Space and Affordable Housing Bond Initiatives will help the county meet its goals of ensuring stable housing for children, homeownership for working families, and safe housing for seniors, while also protecting mountains, forests, productive farmlands, and clean water in our streams and rivers for future generations. 

MountainTrue and our organizational partners are proud to endorse both the Open Space and Housing Bond Initiatives, and we encourage you to vote yes on both bonds this election season. Learn more about the bonds and how they work, see what other community institutions endorse them, and read a helpful FAQ on the Better With Bonds website

“A colleague of mine recently closed on his first house. After years of anxiously scanning listings in Asheville and Buncombe County, he realized that if he were ever to become a homeowner, it would have to happen in another county — in this case, Haywood County.

Likewise, another colleague recently graduated college and began working at MountainTrue last year. She, too, has been frustrated by the housing market, having to settle for a substandard rental unit with a negligent landlord. As rent costs in Buncombe County soar, she has grown doubtful that she will find a better living situation soon. The prospect of owning her own home here is beyond imagination.

Both their struggles reflect our growing housing crisis, where people with stable jobs and decent pay are running out of housing options in Buncombe County. People like the teachers, artists, service industry workers, small-business owners, nurses and others who make Buncombe County such a vibrant place to live.

In response to this dilemma, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners recently approved a ballot referendum that will direct $30 million toward the preservation of open space and $40 million toward the development of housing that is affordable for the county’s workforce. This November, county residents will get to vote on the bonds separately.

The open space and housing bonds can work in conjunction with one another. Buncombe County remains largely rural, and ample land is available to develop housing. The county will likely prioritize the more rural and remote areas for land conservation. On the other hand, housing that is affordable for the county’s workforce is best located in areas already developed and closer to transit services, jobs, schools and commercial centers.”

No Man’s Land Film Festival 2022


No Man’s Land Film Festival

Presented by MountainTrue and New Belgium Brewing on November 29 in Asheville, NC. No registration is required for in-person attendees. If you plan to view the virtual screening, please choose from the two registration options below: 

About the event

MountainTrue and New Belgium Brewing Co. are proud to invite you to No Man’s Land Film Festival (NMLFF) – the premier all-women adventure film festival – at New Belgium Brewing’s Brewhouse in Asheville, NC, on November 29 (Giving Tuesday!). NMLFF is free to attend, and the event will also be available virtually for those who cannot attend in person.

Learn more about NMLFF here.


New Belgium Brewing’s Brewhouse (21 Craven Street Asheville, North Carolina 28806)


Tuesday, November 29, 2022. Doors 6:15 p.m. + Showtime 7:00 p.m.


Free! No registration necessary for the in-person screening. Register for the virtual screening below. 

Watch the trailer

Register for the virtual screening

Become a MountainTrue member

Thank you to our Event Sponsor

Thank you to our 40th Anniversary Sponsors

2022 Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham Award Winners

2022 Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham Award Winners

2022 Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham Award Winners

Every year, MountainTrue recognizes five individuals from across the Southern Blue Ridge as our regional Volunteer of the Year and Esther Cunningham award winners. We look forward to celebrating these exceptional MountainTrue volunteers at our 40th Anniversary Celebration on October 12, 2022:

High Country Volunteer of the Year: Hayden Cheek

Hayden (pictured above) works at a local fly shop in Boone, NC. He’s an excellent angler and guide, and he often goes above and beyond to take care of his local waterways. His practice of giving back and leaving our rivers and woods better than he finds them permeates his friendships, work relationships, and his career. He’s a consistent water quality volunteer with our High Country water quality team and his impact is being passed on to those fortunate enough to spend time with him on the trail or in the river. Thanks so much for all you do, Hayden!

Central Region Volunteer of the Year: Jim Clark

Jim Clark has been helping us clean up the French Broad River for years. He’s been a Swim Guide volunteer for nearly ten years and has been a part of our microplastics sampling team from the very beginning. The data he’s gathered at Pearson Bridge has helped to get the new Real-Time E. coli Estimator (created in partnership with NCDEQ) up and running. He’s gone out of his way to keep trash out of the river, including lugging dozens of heavy, muddy tires out of its reach. Thanks for all your hard work to make the river a better place, Jim!

Western Region Volunteer of the Year: Stacey Cassedy

This year, Stacey has volunteered with both of our Adopt-A-Stream water quality monitoring programs (water chemistry and E. coli) and our Swim Guide program. Stacey’s unwavering dedication to our weekly Swim Guide sampling program helped many folks from across the Western Region know where it was safe to swim this summer! When her sampling site failed for the first time in August, she returned to resample and continued to check and photograph the beach for several additional days to monitor the source of the pollution: goose droppings! Stacey has offered to help with festival tabling events and is interested in doing anything needed to help with MountainTrue’s mission, particularly in the water quality program area. She’s a true super volunteer!

Southern Region Volunteer of the Year: Don Cooper

When Don learned about high bacteria levels in his community’s local waterways, he sprung to action and rallied the support of his fellow Rotarians. With his leadership, dozens of volunteers collected hundreds of water samples from streams in and around Hendersonville over the last several years. The data generated from his efforts helped us isolate the sources of bacteria pollution and direct our advocacy resources in the right direction to make meaningful change for water quality and public health. Thank you so much for your leadership, Don!

The 2022 Esther Cunningham Award Winner: Grady Nance

This award is given each year in honor of one of our organization’s founders, Esther Cunningham. Esther bravely stood in the face of opposition, rallied her community to stand with her, and tirelessly fought to protect and defend the forests of Western North Carolina. 

Grady and his wife, Kathleen, have been MountainTrue members since 2015. In that time, Grady has repeatedly stepped up to support MountainTrue and our region in a number of ways.  Grady spent his career in the electric utility industry and has been a crucial resource to our energy-focused work, especially as we were working both in opposition to and in partnership with Duke Energy. Grady also served on the Henderson County Environmental Advisory Committee for several years, pushing the county to do more in terms of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Grady has served on MountainTrue’s board as our treasurer since 2019. He has acted more like a CFO than just a board member and has been enormously helpful as our budget and the complexity of our budgeting have grown. Grady also says yes to every request we make of him. He has been a thoughtful, conscientious, and diligent board member and treasurer, and we will miss him terribly when he rolls off the board at the end of this year. Because of his commitment and service to MountainTrue and his dedication to the environment, we are pleased to award him with the 2022 Esther Cunningham Award.

Seeking Older Forests: WNCA’s Search For Treasure Trees

Seeking Older Forests: WNCA’s Search For Treasure Trees

Seeking Older Forests: WNCA’s Search For Treasure Trees

Thanks to the efforts of Rob Messick and Josh Kelly, the decades-long focus on old-growth forest protection continues as a primary goal of WNCA/MountainTrue to this day.

By Bob Gale, MountainTrue Ecologist and Public Lands Director

In the early 1990s, old-growth tree expert Bob Leverett and some of his colleagues started researching old-growth forests in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). About one-third of the Smokies had never been logged, so the area offered a glimpse of what Southern Appalachian old-growth forests looked like before their destruction by European colonizers, later industrial logging, and U.S. Forest Service management. 

Edward Yost, Katherine Johnson, and William Blozan were hired to work as a team in GSMNP from 1993-1994. The team assessed forests containing old oak and eastern hemlock in anticipation of the arrival of invasive insect species, like the gypsy moth and the hemlock woolly adelgid. Their study established protocols that became helpful in locating remnant old-growth communities beyond GSMNP. Other work was beginning in this area, as well. Forester Paul Carlson and Clemson Emeritus Professor of Forestry, Bob Zahner, were documenting old-growth in the mountains in the Chattooga River Watershed. Alan Smith, Professor of Biology at Mars Hill College, had also identified old-growth in the Walker Cove Research Natural Area within Pisgah National Forest. Smith later conducted an initial old-growth assessment in the greater Big Ivy area.

Early Western North Carolina Alliance (WNCA) member Rob Messick volunteered in Bob Leverett’s on-the-ground GSMNP studies and apprenticed with the GSMNP Old-Growth Team. At that time, the Forest Service was hesitant to believe that much old-growth remained in WNC’s Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. But Leverett was confident that more old-growth stands still existed, and Messick and others became intrigued with the idea and wanted to search for them. 

The regional studies of Leverett and others interested WNCA. A dedicated group, including Leverett, Zahner, Carlson, Messick, UNC-Asheville’s Gary Miller, and former Forest Service botanist Karen Heiman, joined WNCA Director Mary Kelly to stage the first Eastern Old-Growth Conference at UNC-Asheville in 1993. Its purpose was to raise awareness and elevate the importance of these forest communities and push for their protection in WNC’s national forests. Seventy-five conference attendees drafted and signed a resolution to exclude confirmed old-growth from timber sale proposals in eastern national forests. 

Simultaneous with the planning of the conference, the Walker Cove Research Natural Area was being targeted for logging. A groundswell of concern, headed by Karin Heiman, was growing to protect Walker Cove and Big Ivy. Her effort received strong support from Brock Evans, a nationally prominent forest activist of the Western Ancient Forest Campaign. Mary Kelly notes:

“Evans urged the above group to use the name ‘Big Ivy’ and make it stick! Brock was an old DC lobbying hand and a firm believer of ‘Name it and Save it’ from his work to save South Carolina’s Congaree Swamp* and countless other rare places across the US. Evans even got North Carolina U.S. Representative Charlie Rose to write a congressional letter to save Big Ivy, which I believe caused the Forest Service to take the area out of the timber base for years.”

The conference created the momentum for one of WNCA’s most notable programs. Kelly used a Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation grant to initiate WNCA’s Seeking Older Forests, Finding Common Ground campaign. This title, which Mary coined, perfectly reflected the organization’s advocacy through the community outreach precedent established by its founders, Esther Cunningham and David Liden (see Grassroots and Tree Roots: WNCA’s Beginnings). The campaign involved three essential steps:

Step one: Consult the Forest Service’s stand-oriented databases and review the identified old-growth stands in North Carolina Natural Heritage Program sites. 

Step two: Interview local family members, hikers, hunters, birders, and others about areas they felt had never been logged or were still relatively intact, and compile research of relevant land acquisition records for the national forests. 

Step three: Use the information gained in steps one and two to identify the most likely locations of WNC’s remaining old-growth and visit these targeted sites to collect on-the-ground data, an activity known as ground-truthing. The purpose of this ground-truthing was to establish what old-growth forests actually remained. It included many hours of car travel, finding overnight accommodations or campsites, and long, steep hikes to remote sites with difficult access. 

Rob Messick became the driving force of this research, gathering and compiling it into an inventory of old-growth community locations, tree sizes, and ages. To help accomplish this, he made solo trips and took small teams of assistants to numerous targeted sites throughout the two national forests. Site visits involved braving uncertain weather conditions, steep terrain, biting/stinging insects, and occasionally spiders. Messick and crew successfully avoided venomous snakes, but minor bodily injuries from their challenging work were frequent. However, Messick persisted and employed his skills as a master organizer of extensive and detailed information. 

In May 2000, after seven years of work involving 500 site visits, 50 volunteers, and hours of writing, Messick produced the landmark report, Old-Growth Forest Communities in the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest. An astonishing 77,418 acres of old-growth forest were located and delineated in WNC, dispelling the myth that old-growth was restricted to only a few well-known sites. The report was widely publicized by newspapers as local as the Asheville Citizen-Times and as far away as the Boston Globe. Numerous editorials of such newspapers endorsed the idea of protecting existing old-growth forests in national forests. 

WNCA’s funding for the campaign ended with Messick’s report, but further important old-growth surveys were continued in the mountain forests of North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Virginia by other researchers. One of these researchers was a rising young botanist named Josh Kelly, who conducted surveys for the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition and the environmentally-focused Wildlaw legal firm. In 2011, Kelly became MountainTrue’s Public Lands Field Biologist and has since worked diligently to protect old-growth from Forest Service timber project proposals. 


*Note: While living in South Carolina in the 1970s, MountainTrue Ecologist and Public Lands Director Bob Gale was a part of the successful campaign to protect Congaree Swamp’s old-growth trees. He worked with local activists to push their Congressional Representative to introduce a bill for the 17,500-acre “Congaree Swamp National Monument.” The tract was known by foresters as the “Redwoods of the East” and contained many trees ranked as national champions. Signed into law in 1978 by President Gerald Ford, the tract was eventually expanded into the current 27,000-acre Congaree National Park.

Take action to protect Watauga County from big polluters like Maymead!

Take action to protect Watauga County from big polluters like Maymead!

Take action to protect Watauga County from big polluters like Maymead!

Contact Watauga County Commissioners to voice your support for the proposed amendment to Watauga County’s High-Impact Land Use (HILU) Ordinance by filling out the form below and/or attending the County Commissioners’ public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The proposed amendment is important for advancing appropriate regulatory control over big polluting industries in Watauga County, including the Maymead Asphalt Plant on the 421 Scenic Byway. This minor change would add protections against additional toxic development on a roadway designated by Watauga County as a gateway

Gateways act as rural corridors, which link the region’s urban areas and make it easier for rural residents to travel to major employment centers, educational institutions, regional medical facilities, recreation areas, and other desired destinations. Click here for more information on the county’s gateway strategies. 

The proposed amendment to the HILU Ordinance is good for Watauga County for several reasons: 


1) It would not allow new high-impact development within 1500 feet of a roadway designated by Watauga County as a gateway. 

The county spent time and money developing three gateway strategies, but they currently have no protections in the HILU Ordinance to enact those strategies or to protect the gateways from further high-impact development. Watauga County’s gateways should not be allowed to become high-impact alleyways for toxic polluting industries. 

2) It would act as the second line of legal defense against polluting industries seeking to expand their operations in Watauga County. 

Right now, Maymead — the company building a new asphalt plant in Deep Gap on the 421 Scenic Byway — is grandfathered into the site plan approved by the county back in 2011. Any changes to the site plan would not be legally allowed under the current HILU Ordinance due to an existing provision prohibiting high-impact development within 1500 feet of a state-designated scenic byway. This existing provision is the only thing preventing Maymead from expanding or changing the parameters of the 2011 site plan. 

3) It would build upon existing state-level provisions at the local level.  

Maymead would likely work hard behind the scenes to bypass the 421 Scenic Byway’s state-level protections, asserting that there’s nothing scenic about an asphalt plant at the eastern entrance to the High Country. The proposed amendment would allow the HILU Ordinance to protect both state-designated scenic byways and county-designated gateways from polluting industries like Maymead.

The official notice of a public hearing to be held at the Watauga County Administration Building in Boone is as follows: 


The Watauga County Board of Commissioners will hold a Public Hearing in the Commissioners’ Board Room located in the Watauga County Administration Building at 814 West King Street in Boone, North Carolina, to allow public comment on proposed amendments to the spacing requirements for Category 1 and 2 High Impact Land Uses from the regulations (Chapter 13 of the Planning & Development Ordinance).  

The amendment would be to add to (F)(3): or a roadway designated by Watauga County as a Gateway” following “designated as a NC Scenic Byway”

 (F) Spacing Requirements . . . 

(3) Category 1 High Impact Land Uses may not be established within 1,500 feet of the right-of-way line of a roadway designated by NCDOT as a NC Scenic Byway or within 1,500 feet of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Presence of a city, county or other political subdivision boundary shall be irrelevant for purposes of calculating and applying the spacing requirements of this Section.

Real-Time E. coli estimates for the French Broad River at Pearson Bridge available on new website from MountainTrue and NC DEQ

Real-Time E. coli estimates for the French Broad River at Pearson Bridge available on new website from MountainTrue and NC DEQ

Real-Time E. coli estimates for the French Broad River at Pearson Bridge available on new website from MountainTrue and NC DEQ

MountainTrue has partnered with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Pigeon River Fund to create a new website that provides the public with real-time water quality estimates at Pearson Bridge on the French Broad River in Asheville, NC. The website combines existing technology and new mathematical modeling to estimate E. coli conditions in real time. 

The modeling correlates water turbidity data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey with MountainTrue’s and DEQ’s E. coli data at Pearson Bridge. The French Broad River at Pearson Bridge is now one of the few places in the country to have a real-time E. coli estimate modeling system.

“The goals of the WNC Recreational Monitoring program are to empower and enhance the existing community of environmental organizations already monitoring water quality in WNC, while expanding the Department of Environmental Quality’s analytical abilities to shorten the turnaround time in E. coli analyses and further refine risks associated with elevated bacteria levels,” said Landon Davidson, Division of Water Resources Regional Manager. “Near real-time calculations of bacteria levels are valuable to users because rapid changes in river conditions can increase bacteria levels significantly.” For more information on the State’s WNC Recreational Water Quality program, visit the DEQ website.

French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson explains, “Summer is when river recreation is most popular, but it’s also when afternoon thunderstorms can roll in, cause significant runoff and drastically change water quality. This new technology helps eliminate that uncertainty by providing the public with real-time estimated bacteria levels so that they can make informed decisions about whether or how to spend time on the river.”

The French Broad River Watershed is one of the most popular water-based recreation areas in North Carolina. On any given warm day, the French Broad Watershed hosts thousands of tubers, swimmers, canoers, kayakers, anglers, and whitewater boaters. Recreators frequently wonder how clean the river is and if it’s safe to swim or paddle. 

As part of its existing Swim Guide program, MountainTrue publishes E. coli data each week from May to September on the Swim Guide platform. MountainTrue utilizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved IDEXX method for collecting and analyzing water samples and compares the results against the safe standard for health determined by the EPA. 

MountainTrue samples for E. coli because it’s the best indicator for the presence of microbes that pose threats to human health, such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, and norovirus. Heavy rains and storms often result in spikes in E. coli contamination, increasing the risk to human health. Contact with or consumption of contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illness, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections. The most commonly reported symptoms are stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and low-grade fever.

While the Swim Guide program provides high-quality data, it suffers from a time lag, as E. coli samples take 18-24 hours to incubate. Water quality can vary significantly from week to week or even day to day. E. coli levels can change quickly with heavy rains, as stormwater triggers runoff from agriculture, sewer overflows, and failed septic systems. Swim Guide data taken from MountainTrue’s Pearson Bridge sampling site over the past month illustrates this problem. During a relatively dry period in June, E. coli levels at Pearson Bridge were well below the safe standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). July’s heavy thunderstorms have caused E. coli levels at Pearson Bridge to spike significantly, including being over 25 times the EPA’s safe standard on July 13. 

As our mountain region experiences increased high-intensity rain events as a symptom of climate change, developing a model that provides E. coli estimates to the public is important. The French Broad Riverkeeper says MountainTrue and DEQ want folks to have the resources they need to make more informed decisions about when and how to recreate the French Broad River. Now, this will be possible thanks to the real-time E. coli estimator model and the USGS Pearson Bridge turbidity gage data on which it is based.  

These real-time estimates will also help the French Broad Riverkeeper and DEQ track sources of pollution as they continue working together to bring about a cleaner French Broad River. Visit frenchbroadwaterquality.com to view results in real time. Visit theswimguide.org/affiliates/french-broad-riverkeeper/ to view MountainTrue’s weekly Swim Guide results from across the French Broad River Watershed. 

40th Anniversary Celebration

MountainTrue Annual Gathering 2022

40th Anniversary Celebration

Celebrate 40 years of successes and partnerships with the MountainTrue team at the Salvage Station on Wednesday, October 12, 2022! 

About the event

2022 marks MountainTrue’s 40th anniversary, so we’re celebrating in a big way! Join us for this year’s 1982 throwback-themed gathering and enjoy good food, drinks, stories, and company as we celebrate 40 years of protecting the places we share. The online auction includes exciting adventures and experiences donated by Asheville Yoga Center, Navitat, MountainTrue’s riverkeepers, and more. Online bidding will begin at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, September 19, and end at 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday, October 12. Event attendees can place in-person bids until 7:30 p.m. at the October 12 event. All funds raised support MountainTrue’s work in the Southern Blue Ridge. 

We’ll also take time to congratulate and recognize our outstanding Regional Volunteer of the Year Award winners: Hayden Cheek (High Country Region), Don Cooper (Southern Region), Stacey Cassedy (Western Region), Jim Clark (Central Region), as well as this year’s Esther Cunningham Award winner: Grady Nance.


The Salvage Station: 466 Riverside Drive, Asheville, NC 28801

(on-site parking available)


5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 12, 2022.


Click here to check out our exciting auction item lineup!


Heavy hors d’oeuvres provided by Chef Steven Moore of The Broke Stove catering. 

MountainTrue since 1982

Visit our 40th anniversary webpage to read about our organization’s collaborative history, monumental successes, and the important folks who helped shape our organization into what it is today. You can also sign up to participate in one of our two 40th anniversary challenges and earn your special edition merit badge (pictured) designed by Greg Tuthill


Become a MountainTrue member

Thank You to Our 40th Anniversary Sponsors

Waterfowl and Water Quality

Waterfowl and Water Quality

Waterfowl and Water Quality

Geese, ducks, and swans may seem like a beautiful and natural part of a lakeside environment. You may enjoy them so much that you spend time feeding them or otherwise encouraging them to spend time on your property or in local parks. But overly large waterfowl populations can actually cause several problems for humans, water quality, and the birds themselves.

The Canada goose (Branta canadensis) has been present in North Carolina and Georgia historically in both migratory and residential populations. During the 1970s, the number of migratory geese coming to these states declined drastically. In response, in the early 1980s, state wildlife agencies introduced populations of a goose sub-species with weak migrating skills that quickly adapted to the suburban lakes and rivers of Georgia and North Carolina. This new population of resident geese exploded into 45,000 birds in Georgia and 100,000 birds in North Carolina, but generations later, they now have next to no migrating skills.

These large waterfowl populations leave a lot of droppings behind. According to Clear Choices Clean Water Indiana, a single Canada goose eats three to four pounds of grass and can create as much as two to three pounds of waste per day. These droppings are unsightly and odorous and can also make people sick. Goose feces carries similar bacterial strains to those present in mammal waste. Research has shown that goose poop contains a wide variety of pathogens capable of infecting humans. Parasites that cause gastrointestinal problems (particularly Cryptosporidium and Giardia) have also been found in waterfowl feces. And feces from geese, ducks, and swans commonly act as hosts for the parasite that causes swimmer’s itch.

A large population of migratory birds staying in Georgia and North Carolina during the winter does not drastically raise the bacterial count of a waterbody, thanks to the low seasonal temperatures. Intestinal strains of bacteria do not reproduce in cold or freezing temperatures. However, with a large geese population now residing in our lakes during the summer months, warmer water temperatures promote the growth of potentially harmful pathogens. Additionally, bird waste is high in phosphorus, a nutrient that increases algae growth in mountain lakes. 

As a general rule, try to stay away from areas that are heavily contaminated with waterfowl droppings. If you come into contact with poo, wash your hands thoroughly before touching your face or other people. Thoroughly wash any shoes, feet, or clothes that come into contact with droppings as well. It is especially important that parents be vigilant about keeping children away from areas heavily covered in droppings.

Pictured above: Goose droppings on a public swimming beach in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains. 

How can you help?

Do not feed geese. Handouts of bread or other human food items have little nutritional value to geese, artificially satisfy their hunger, and make them reliant on nesting in parks and residential communities. Geese are herbivores, and green plants, including sedges and grasses, make up the bulk of their diet.

Make it difficult for geese to find an ideal nesting location. Lush green turf grass planted right up to the edges of our lakes, ponds, and rivers has created the perfect habitat for goose populations to explode. If you typically keep your grass cut short, try letting it grow tall around the edges of the shoreline or plant some native moisture-tolerant shrubs such as buttonbush, arrowwood viburnum, and others — this makes it more difficult for geese to walk from the water to the land and back, making your property less inhabitable. You can also identify places where you’ve seen geese nest previously and place an object there to prevent geese from nesting there in the future — this object must be large and heavy enough that the goose can’t move it. 

Get (or adopt!) and train a dog to chase geese away from your property. Border collies and similar herding breeds are exceptionally capable of chasing unwanted waterfowl away. Training your pup(s) to chase away the geese in the mornings and evenings is one of the most effective methods to deter the birds from spending time on your property. The geese perceive the dogs to be predators and decide to find somewhere else to live.

Hunt residential goose communities. The Canada goose is not an endangered species and hunting is permitted. All of Western North Carolina is classified as a residential population hunting zone with three seasons in the fall and winter. Georgia has four seasons beginning in September. Visit wncwildlife.org or georgiawildlife.org to learn more.