Canada geese are familiar sights in the Augusta area, thanks to the foresight of South Carolina wildlife biologist Robert Gooding of Greenwood.
"I don't know whether I'll get the credit or the blame," laughed Gooding, 60, whose idea in 1975 has taken off, literally and figuratively.
First, it caught the attention of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District game biologist David Brady.
"All the northern states were `shortstopping' the geese -- feeding 'em during the winter so most wouldn't fly South," Brady said. "Robert's initial idea was to transplant some geese to Clarks Hill (Thurmond) Lake and establish a resident population."
Gooding and Brady were invited to Tennessee to help game biologists on a wild goose roundup. The deal was Tennessee would donate some of the geese to the biologists.
"We helped trap 3,000 Canada geese over two days," Brady said, "and then politics entered the picture. The Tennessee biologists reneged, but offered to trade us geese for wild turkeys. We declined."
A short while later, a commercial breeder of geese was located in Iowa.
"He raised the greater Canada species which we were interested in and Robert drove up there and brought back 12 mated pairs," Brady said. "It takes awhile for geese to mate so we felt we'd be ahead of the game by buying mated pairs.
"The Corps of Engineers underwrote costs of the project -- it's not something you'd ordinarily request money for, but (to my surprise) it was approved. After a year, it was obvious that reproduction had occurred and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources became interested."
Gooding is entering his 36th year as a South Carolina Department of Natural Resources game biologist and works out of an office on Highway 72 between Greenwood and Abbeville. His jurisdiction extends into Greenwood, McCormick, Saluda, Edgefield and Aiken counties and includes the Western Piedmont Hunt Unit.
A native of Clemson, he is a 1959 graduate of the university with a degree in entomology.
"That subject was the closest thing Clemson (then) had to general biology, but I knew I had to go to graduate school if I was to follow my chosen profession as a wildlife biologist," Gooding said. He had gotten a taste of the career by working with the wildlife department as a teen-ager, planting bicolor lespedeza as one of his first part-time jobs.
He chose Auburn University and earned his master's degree in wildlife management after which he joined the wildlife department as full time biologist in 1962.
Gooding began his career at the Francis Marion Wildlife Management Area near McClellanville and 1 1/2 years later moved to Moncks Corner as a district biologist. He was transferred to the Lowcountry, working in Hampton, Jasper and Beaufort counties before moving to Greenwood County in 1968.
"Having grown up in the piedmont, I found life a bit more comfortable up here," said Gooding. He and his wife, Harriet, raised three daughters in that area.
He oversees the work of six game management technicians and works with Mike Caudell, whose responsibility is the Crackerneck Wildlife Management Area adjacent to the Savannah River Site in Aiken County.
Current projects include working with Brady and the Corps of Engineers in expansion of the Russell Creek Waterfowl Area in McCormick County.
"We hope to expand the acreage we can flood with 1 1/2 feet of water to some 20 acres and double the size of the overall area from 18 to 36 acres," he said. "We're also working on the James L. Mason property near Fury's Ferry Bridge. Mr. Mason left us more than 1,900 acres in his will, to be used as grounds for hunting and other recreation opportunities. We have a timber sale ongoing there now which should bring us some money to help us develop the property as Mr. Mason ordered."
Gooding has earned good will and respect not only among his peers, but from the public at large with whom he deals.
"As chief of game management, I occasionally have `brush fires' (complaints from the public about his staff) to put out, but I've never had any complaints about Robert," said John Frampton.
"He is the unsung hero of our agency, whose success is measured because of people like Robert. His integrity is unmatched and I admire him because he has a good handle on life, with God, family and the job his priorities in that order.
"Anytime I was thinking of proposing any changes in deer and wild turkey regulations, I'd always ask Robert's opinion," said Frampton, who has been chief of wildlife since 1985. "He is always able to look at the big picture and see the total impact of any changes."
Brady added that, "from an academic point of view, Robert has always managed to keep up with what's going on in our profession and stay up to date. I've enjoyed working with him because he always followed through on projects, never leaving anything hanging.
"Looking back on the disposal of wildlife management area land to Savannah Lakes Village 10 years ago, both Robert and I as biologists saw that this was going to be a problem and a precedent-setting issue.
"Our responsibility as biologists is to retain such habitat for wildlife and we needed to keep that land. Robert never caved in on his beliefs -- there was never any wobbling on his part. When the land was released, it was because of political intervention and not really the fault of his agency," Brady said.
If Gooding has any regrets about his job, it's that he doesn't get into the field as much as he'd like. He enjoys hunting for wild turkeys and does a bit of fishing when he has the time.
"I've become a paper-shuffler, making sure budgets and everything else gets taken care of," he said during an interview last week.
"I do get a chance to get out on a tractor once or twice, but mainly I oversee the technicians -- they do the work."
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