By Sadef Ali Kully
The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2014 court decision Tuesday that said the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was within its rights to kill nearly any migratory bird, including snowy owls, that poses a threat to air traffic at JFK International Airport, according to federal court records.
Tuesday’s ruling rejected an appeal filed by Manhattan-based Friends of Animal, a non-profit animal advocacy organization since 1957.
In 2013, Friends of Animals, sued a deputy administrator in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency Animal and Plant Health Inspection and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for violating the National Environmental Policy Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act, court records said. NEPA requires the federal government to consider environment first when undertaking projects such as building airports and highways and MBTA makes it illegal for anyone to take, possess or sell any migratory bird except under the terms of a valid permit that complies with federal regulations.
“What the Court of Appeals has actually affirmed is that our nation’s laws, as currently constituted, legitimizes the indiscriminate, unnecessary killing of animals,” Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program, said on the nonprofit’s website.
Since 1994, the Bird Hazard Reduction Program has authorized the Port Authority to protect aircraft departing and arriving at JFK and LaGuardia Airport from bird strikes.
Kennedy, the major stopover for human travelers, is nestled between the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and the Atlantic Flyaway, the major stopover on the migratory route for hundreds of bird species.
In Manhattan, U.S. Circuit Judge José Cabranes wrote for the three-judge panel, “It is clear that when the Port Authority takes a migratory bird ‘in [an] emergency situation [it’s]’ because the bird ‘pos[es] a direct threat to human safety.”
The panel said the nonprofit misread MBTA as requiring the agency to specifically list the species of birds that may be killed on the permit’s face, when this provision does not apply to emergency situations.
According to the most recent FAA statistics, from January through July 2015 there were an estimated 109 bird strikes at Kennedy and across the country. The cost of damage and delay due to a bird strike incident is in the billions, the federal agency said. A 2000 report estimated $1.2 billion is lost to bird strikes every year.
In the past, the Port Authority has used different lethal and non-lethal methods, including hawks, to remove the bird population at its airports. These include Laughing gulls, geese and snowy owls that become hazards for the aircrafts on the runway.
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull