Just weeks before the ax was about the fall on their long necks, a flock of Madison's geese received an executioners pardon shortly after midnight Thursday morning.
Zeroing in on the actual risk the geese pose to the nearby Dane County Regional Airport remained the main sticking point at Wednesday's meeting held at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center.
"Human lives are potentially at stake, and because of that, although small, we're asking to manage that risk," Charles Lovell, a representative from the United States Department of Agriculture said.
The Parks Commission reopened the issue after receiving criticism for their quick passage last month of a policy that would have killed about 80 geese this summer. They decided early Thursday to acquire more data on non-lethal management techniques, canceling the cull.
A hostile crowd of geese supporters groaned at airport representatives after waiting nearly three hours for the agenda item to come up at the marathon six-hour meeting.
Activists called the cancellation of the scheduled "round up" a victory for the city at the recreation center overlooking the home of the targeted geese.
"This would have been ugly for everyone involved," Nathan Phoenix, a goose supporter who rallied more than 1,700 people on a Facebook group said. "In Seattle it divided the entire community for years. It sends the message that communities aren't going to stand for this, and we'll need to work around, and in conjunction with the natural wildlife."
Jens Luebow, a pilot who has called the airports claims of imminent threat into question last week, said data collected by federal officials severely discredits the level of danger.
"I'm appalled by the abuse and lack of data," Luebow said. "By proclaiming there is this great risk you're scaring passengers."
Luebow said Federal Aviation Association data shows an equal prevalence of wildlife strikes from hawks, and even smaller birds that are not being targeted.
Airport officials relied on data from a banding program that revealed nine geese near the runways, and accelerated their urgency after the "Miracle on the Hudson" plane that went down last year in New York.
Lowell Wright, Environmental and Wildlife Management Officer for the airport suffered criticism from the crowd after he failed to name an acceptable goose population level at the meeting. He said the nine geese from Warner Park found were the only tagged out of the total of about 80 killed on airport property in 2008-2009.
Commission member Betty Chewning said she hopes the city's report in the fall will provide well-researched strategies for managing the habitat around the airport. Many at the meeting suggested simple solutions like longer grass that would discourage geese from flocking to certain areas.
"I think the Parks Department needs to think broadly to come up with a strategy," Chewning said. "I think it's a mistake to focus just on Warner Park."
Looking back at the dozens of angry speakers, deputy airport director Dave Jensen said he appreciated the engagement, and vowed to continue to look for safety solutions.
"Some of the risk factors are very difficult to quantify," Jensen said. "We've met with the city since the last meeting and we'll continue to work together as a primary stakeholder in this."