By Steve Mosco
Geese better find a new place to molt this summer since a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) would make rounding up the birds easier around area airports.
After a plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport was forced to make an emergency landing following a bird strike last week, the senator proposed legislation streamlining communications between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Park Service. This would allow for the swift removal of Canada geese from major city airports.
“We cannot afford to sit back and wait for a catastrophe to occur before cutting through bureaucratic red tape between federal agencies,” said Gillibrand. “We cannot and should not wait another day to act while public safety is at risk.”
Gillibrand’s legislation would expedite the removal of Canada geese from the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge near JFK by requiring the USDA to act within 90 days of a determination by the Federal Aviation Administrator and the National Parks Service that geese residing on lands within 5 miles of a commercial airport pose a threat to flight safety.
The geese would be removed during their molting period — between June and August — when the birds lose their feathers and cannot fly. According to Carol Bannerman, public affairs specialist for the USDA wildlife services, removal of geese could involve lethal procedures such as shooting or gassing the animals.
Bannerman said the USDA’s first goal is to chase birds away or make the land around an airport less attractive to the population.
But in cases of imminent danger, lethal force is employed.
“Sometimes we’re faced with making the decision between the individual animal and human safety. When you look at the population involved here, Canada geese are abundant,” she said. “The goal is not to rid the country or a state or a city of all Canada geese. Our constant focus is on how we can keep aviation passengers safe while maintaining the wildlife population.”
A recent FAA report found that bird strikes have risen in each of the past three years, but Bannerman stressed while the numbers are up, it is not necessarily because more contact is occurring on runways.
“The number of strikes reported is on the rise,” she said, adding reports of bird strikes increased following the Miracle on the Hudson incident in 2009, when a US Airways jet was forced to land in the river when geese were sucked into its engines after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport.
If geese were to be removed from the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Bannerman said workers would herd the geese, put them in crates and euthanize them in carbon dioxide chambers. This method does not sit well with animal rights groups, including Friends of Animals New York Director Edita Birnkrant, who said Gillibrand’s proposal is a kneejerk reaction to an overly sensationalized story.
“This violent and brutal attack on wildlife is not strategic and not pro-active,” said Birnkrant. “If the geese are attracted to the area, no matter how many times you round them up for slaughter, they are going to come back. The landscape needs to be modified so it’s not attractive to birds.”
One landscape feature Birnkrant pointed at specifically is a planned garbage transfer station in College Point near the end of a runway at LaGuardia Airport.
“[The senator] should be concerned with the proposal to build a garbage dump near LaGuardia instead of inciting hysteria over kamikaze killer geese who are supposedly targeting you and your children,” she said.
Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4546.