Most New Yorker’s recall the “Miracle on the Hudson” when a heroic pilot safely landed a jet airliner on the Hudson River after colliding with a flock of Canada geese on January 15, 2009. This near-tragedy set in motion a broad plan to exterminate the local-living birds in parks across the region, and Mayor Bloomberg declared “It's geese or human beings — I can tell you where I come out on that.”
Seems simple enough, right? Geese take down airplanes, kill the geese. Alas, it’s much more complex than that, and what most people don’t know has hurt the geese and other animals, and the public as well. The air safety rationale for killing resident geese can be swiftly cast aside - a growing number of aviation experts, including "Miracle on the Hudson" Capt. Sullenberger have expressed opposition to the idea that killing geese is going to prevent future accidents - it isn't.
Granted, air safety is a serious and legitimate concern, and “bird strikes” happen. But placing the blame on geese has allowed leaders like Bloomberg, the FAA, and USDA to give the impression that something is being done, when in fact the opposite is true. New York City is literally killing geese and crossing our fingers, while significant and actual threats are overlooked or exacerbated.
If it’s not bad enough that slaughtering geese en masse is cruel and inhumane, there is simply no scientific basis for the policy, and all evidence points to the fact that killing New York City’s Canada geese has had – and will continue to have – no long term impact in reducing the threats that may exist.
In fact, the threat may be exacerbated by creating vacant habitats which other animals will inevitably reoccupy. New York City’s airports were built on ancient bird migration patterns. History proves that “nature abhors a vacuum”, and killing or removing animals only invites others – either the same or different species – to take the place of the ones you killed. Thus, exacerbating an already precarious situation, and leading to repeated or annual killings with no true benefit and grave harm caused.
While New York City’s goose extermination policy is at best a band aid solution to the threat of bird strikes, long term strategies continue to be ignored. “This isn’t the first time, and you’re never going to eliminate all birds from any airport environment. The key is to try to manage the risk,” said Ron Merritt, a biologist, retired Air Force Major and former chief for the Air Force's Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH), and now CEO of DeTect, Inc., which specializes in avian radar for aviation. Merritt stated that "killing 1,000 geese really isn't going to do anything…If you kill them, nature will fill that vacuum and a new species will pop up in its place.” But instead of following Merritt’s expert advice and strategies, the city has engaged Wildlife Services to conduct an annual kill, with no alternative or long-term plans in sight.
Perhaps worst yet, the NYC Canada Goose Removal Program is a distraction from the true threats to air safety. While NYC’s political leaders such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg continue to support the extermination of Canada geese for “air safety” reasons, many such as the mayor and Council Speaker Christine Quinn continue to support the construction of multiple waste transfer stations around NYC, including two in close proximity to La Guardia Airport. These facilities are considered a major threat by expert accounts, including several public officials and other notables, even including infamous “Miracle on the Hudson” Captain Sully Sullenberger. There is widespread community opposition to the construction of these facilities, which pose not only a serious threat to air safety but health as well.
Instead of taking meaningful precautions and serious steps to mitigate the risk of bird strikes, the City is actively doing damage and directly threatening the lives of airplane passengers and communities. There are regulations against constructing facilities near airports likely to attract gulls (the bird highest on the FAA’s Wildlife Strike, while geese rank near the bottom), as well as mice and rats, which in turn will attract other larger birds of prey. The FAA somehow granted exemptions to its own rules preventing the construction of garbage dumps so close to the end of an airport runaway claiming because the structure won’t act as an attractant for animals. The facility is planned to be fully enclosed, so if you believe it, the facility will not have exterior odors, will not attract birds, will prevent any birds or from coming in or odors from exiting while the trucks are entering or exiting or driving through the neighborhood. Meanwhile there are signs at the taxi stand in the airport departure terminal saying “don’t feed the birds” because they might cause an accident.
In addition to the hundreds of thousands of
dollars NYC pays to have geese killed in our parks each summer, the NY/NJ Port Authority is set to pay USDA Wildlife Services over $1.5 million in 2013 for "wildlife
hazard management" at JFK and LaGuardia Airports, including $400,000 for "seasonal wildlife control." Yet, Mayor
Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Quinn are allowing construction
to move forward on two marine waste transfer stations near LaGuardia Airport - the same leadership that believes killing geese is necessary to reduce air safety threats.
These facilities are considered a major threat by aviation experts, including famous “Miracle on the Hudson” Captain Sully Sullenberger and Jim Hall, former director of the National Transportation Safety Board under President Clinton, who explained: “You will have 91st Street on one side and this on the other...and you can draw a straight line between the two of them that runs right through LaGuardia Airport.” There is widespread community opposition to the construction of these facilities, which pose not only a serious threat to air safety but public health as well.
Ken Paskar is president of Friends of LaGuardia Airport, which is trying to stop the construction in federal court. Paskar believes the Port Authority caved to political pressure from the mayor’s office in accepting the site, and that the FAA granted its approval in violation of several of its own regulations, starting with the 2,200-foot distance - gulls and other birds will be attracted to the 3,500 tons of garbage that will be processed in the structure daily before it is barged away.
Friends of LaGuardia Airport, which is supported by pilots and aviation experts is opposed to the planned construction of a waste transfer station 2,000 feet from La Guardia Airport. Mr. Paskar has expressed his expert opinion that the culling of the Canada Geese in NYC and Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge will not address the risk of bird strikes to air safety, and in fact exacerbates the threat of bird strikes because they create vacant, desirable habitat which will inevitably be filled by other birds and animals. Furthermore, and importantly, the attention placed on slaughtering NYC’s geese is a distraction from the true causes for concern, namely these waste transfer stations (feeding grounds) being built. The Queens Tribune recently published an OpEd he penned, expressing this point. Also, from the Queens Chronicle: Ken Paskar, President, Friends of LaGuardia Airport is against killing the geese. “The Port Authority has a team of experts on staff that works to mitigate the impact of wildlife on aviation,” Paskar said. “There’s got to be a more humane, safer way to prevent them from having an impact on airspace.” Paskar also said geese may not be the biggest problem around Kennedy. “What does Sen. Gillibrand intend to do about turkey vultures, European starlings and gulls?”
Coalition for Environmental Justice is an alliance of neighborhood citizens and groups opposed against the construction of a marine waste transfer station (MTS) which the city is planning to build on the East Side of Manhattan at 91st Street in Yorkville / East Harlem, as well as other MTS (“dump”) locations in Brooklyn and Queens. In addition to the threats posed by such a facility to passenger and air-safety in close proximity to a major airport, other important public interests and neighborhoods are affected. These facilities will bring truckloads of waste, some of which may be toxic and industrial waste, through residential neighborhoods on a daily basis. Industrial waste management facilities threaten public and animal health, general welfare, safety, waterfront access and security. The site will be permitted for up to five hundred municipal and commercial garbage trucks twenty four hours a day, six days a week, smothering pets with exhaust and pollutants, imposing constant noise and traffic congestion, and emergency response and other services will be affected, presenting an ongoing danger to the community. Since the location is just a few hundred feet from Isaacs Holms public housing, more than twenty-five hundred low income families will also be seriously impacted. In terms of air quality, pets are especially at risk because particulate matter (dirt and soot) from the trucks settles low to the ground, and dangerous poisons and chemicals used to control rats and other animals will pose an ongoing danger to pets and children alike.
While opposition to these waste transfer stations may not be an animal rights issue per se, the campaign against the city to oppose and halt these projects is directly linked to our fight to protect NYC’s Canada geese. If political leaders continue to scapegoat geese while allowing such threats to air safety, by which geese will become further incriminated, we intend to respond.