With Eye on Airports, City to Begin Culling Geese

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With Eye on Airports, City to Begin Culling Geese

[Ed. Note: See Geese That Downed Flight Shown to Be Migratory Birds]

By Glenn Collins, NewYorkTimes.com
June 2009

Reacting to the bird strike that resulted in the nearly disastrous ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in January, government agencies announced new efforts on Thursday to control the region’s noisy, prolific and seemingly indefatigable Canada geese.

A focus of the plan is the removal of up to 2,000 of the birds for the first time from more than 40 city-owned parks and other facilities within five miles of the city’s airports.

The water landing of Flight 1549 “served as a catalyst to strengthen our efforts in removing geese from, and discouraging them from nesting on, city property near our runways,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said in a statement. The city, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the United States Department of Agriculture are implementing the new plan.

The effort also includes the installation of a bird radar trial program at Kennedy Airport, said Chris Ward, the executive director of the authority. He added that the authority would hire a second wildlife biologist to coordinate safety measures. The first phase of the plan will begin next week, during the goose molting season, when the birds shed old wing feathers and are less mobile, and continue until the end of July.

“Clearly, geese are a threat to aviation safety, and we can’t count on miracles,” said Edward Skyler, deputy mayor for operations.

The immediate culling effort — in which the birds will be euthanized — will cost as much as $100,000, Mr. Skyler said, to be shared by the city and the authority. The 40 parks in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx will include Fort Totten and Flushing Meadows-Corona; culling will also take place at city properties like wastewater-treatment plants.

Subsequently, the city will assume the entire cost — $250,000 — of filling in a large land depression on Rikers Island that has attracted geese, Mr. Skyler said. In addition, the city will install signs prohibiting the feeding of geese and other animals in wildlife habitats. The authority will also expand shotgun training for its field wildlife supervisors, for cases where captures are not feasible.

The authority described the new efforts as a “multitiered approach.” But an animal welfare executive was skeptical. “Targeting 2,000 birds, that is less than 1 percent of the resident population, and it’s not going to make the sky safer,” said Glenn Phillips, executive director of New York City Audubon. “If this is not done in context of a long-term regional management plan, it will have no effect.”

The State Department of Environmental Conservation has estimated that there are 20,000 to 25,000 resident Canada geese in the region. Another 25,000 are believed to migrate through the area each year, according to New York City Audubon; migrating geese are thought to have brought down Flight 1549.

Mr. Phillips said, however, that the employment of a second wildlife biologist to assist in bird control at La Guardia Airport “should be applauded” because the hiring of the first biologist had helped reduce the number of bird-plane collisions during the past decade.

Mr. Skyler said, “The intention is to do whatever we can to make the airspace around the airport safer,” adding, “Even if it marginally improves the situation, it’s worth doing.”

Candace McAdams, a spokeswoman for the authority, said it had removed nearly 1,250 geese from the vicinity of La Guardia during the past five years.

Geese are captured and “taken off site and humanely euthanized using CO2 to put them to sleep, using methods approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association,” said Jason Post, a spokesman for the mayor. In the past, some culled geese were donated to food banks; most were incinerated. Mr. Post said that in the future, the euthanized geese were likely to be “disposed of and not made available for human consumption.”

To take action, go to New York City To Gas 2,000 Canada Geese, June-July 2009.

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