Feds purge geese near JFK

Photo by Steve Mosco
By Steve Mosco

Federal agents rounded up more than 750 Canada geese at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Monday in an effort to stave off fatal bird strikes on passenger airplanes taking off or landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) pushed the federal Department of Agriculture to expedite an environmental impact study and make the final decision on what to do with birds some see as a threat to air safety.

“We could not afford to sit back and wait for a catastrophe to occur before cutting through bureaucratic red tape between federal agencies,” Gillibrand said. “We are finally taking action to help reduce bird strikes and save lives. I thank Secretary Ken Salazar for his leadership in moving this process forward.”

In a phone conversation with Salazar, the senator urged the U.S. Interior Department secretary to quickly issue new permits for the removal of geese from the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge immediately upon the formal acceptance of the study.

The USDA removed the birds during their molting period when they are flightless and easier to round up. The birds were rounded up, put into crates and driven to a meat processing plant in upstate New York, confirmed Carol Bannerman, with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, a division within the USDA.

The geese will be killed and their meat will be given to food banks upstate, Bannerman said.

Last month, Gillibrand also requested the expedited removal of 200 geese at two landfill areas along the Jamaica Bay shoreline, which the Interior Department had the existing authority carry out and was able to complete two weeks ago. The senator introduced federal legislation in May to reduce bird strikes.

In April, a Delta Airlines jet was forced to make an emergency landing after it hit geese when it took off from Kennedy. In a separate incident, a JetBlue flight taking off from Westchester County hit two Canada geese and was forced to land.

Geese also brought down the Miracle on the Hudson flight in 2009, when Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was forced to land his plane in the Hudson River after it took off from LaGuardia

But while Gillibrand sees this action as desperately needed to ensure safety in the skies, animal activists view the roundups as a cruel slaughter of innocent geese.

“Sen. Gillibrand turned Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge into a killing zone this morning, as 751 Canada geese were rounded up, removed and slaughtered while they were molting and unable to fly — thanks to Gillibrand’s wrong-headed, shocking attack on geese in the city’s only federally protected bird sanctuary,” said Edita Birnkrant, the New York director of Friends of Animals. “Shame on Sen. Gillibrand, whose reputation is forever tarred by this bloody, disgraceful attack on New York City wildlife and a refuge.”

And Ida Sanoff, of the Natural Protective Association, believes removing geese could actually exacerbate the threat to aircraft.

“Environmentalists know the golden rule of ecosystems: If one species is removed, another species will take over,” said Sanoff. “So if the gulls and the geese are gone, there will be more resources available for whatever species moves in to occupy their niche. And that species may be even more problematic.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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