Owl advocates sue over JFK bird plan

Owl advocates sue over JFK bird plan
AP Photo/Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management
By Rich Bockmann

An animal rights group that had its feathers ruffled when the Port Authority killed three owls at JFK Airport last month is suing the federal government to reform the airport’s bird-management policies.

Under its federally authorized bird-hazard reduction program for the airport, the Port Authority shot and killed three snowy owls in early December believed to pose a risk to aircraft.

Snowy owls are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prevents killing migratory birds that travel between the United States and Canada, though the feds allow for lethal tactics when birds pose an imminent safety risk.

After a news report documented the shootings, the agency said it would no longer kill the Arctic-native species best known as the pet of Harry Potter in the eponymous book and film series.

But the New York-based Friends of Animals said the move does not go far enough to protect the owls or other birds killed at John F. Kennedy International Airport under the program, and last week it filed a civil lawsuit against the federal agencies overseeing the program.

The group named the deputy administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as defendants in the civil suit it filed in Brooklyn’s Eastern District Court.

“The officials at the two government agencies named in the lawsuit were required to fully disclose the scope of their proposed bird reduction plan, to analyze the impacts of the program on wildlife and to explain whether impacts to wildlife — including the targeted birds — could be reduced,” the group wrote on its website. “However, nowhere in the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision for the Gull Hazard/Bird Hazard Reduction Program at JFK can one find any discussion about specific non-lethal methods for handling snowy owls.”

Friends of Animals argued that JFK’s environmental impact statements from 2004 and 2012 do not adequately list non-lethal alternatives for removing the snowy owls as required under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

“As a result, wildlife officials depending on these documents resorted to their default control measure — shooting,” the lawsuit read.

The advocacy group is asking the court to void any permits issued to shoot migratory birds at the airport until the defendants draft a new environmental impact statement that complies with federal laws.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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