Although goose advocates may disagree with the premise that there are too many geese, and we may know that killing geese is not a solution to the threats posed by aviation experts, when we advocate not killing geese or other animals, one of the most common questions we receive is whether we advocate for any alternatives to killing geese.
To be clear, GooseWatch NYC has expert support to our arguments that killing geese is at best a short term response to the threat of bird strikes, and killing geese will never be enough to prevent the next “Miracle on the Hudson.” Each year 1.2 million flights takeoff and land at NYC’s three major airports, not even including several other smaller regional airports within a seven mile radius of New York City. The number of total bird strikes, of which geese are but a small percentage has grown from about 200 to 400 over the past decade. All parties supporting the killings readily admit the impossibility of bringing the number down to zero, or anywhere close.
Essentially, a certain number of bird strikes will occur each year – it is a statistical inevitability. The only question is just how often, and how severe the damage will be.
It’s important to again note that the geese which collided with the “Miracle on the Hudson” were DNA tested as migratory birds from Labrador, Canada – killing every goose, or ever bird in the entire preceding summer would not have prevented this incident. In order to guarantee preventing a repeat occurrence would essentially require killing every bird on the eastern seaboard.
Ron Merritt, a biologist and former chief for the Air Force's Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) team stated that "killing 1,000 geese really isn't going to do anything…If you kill them, nature with fill that vacuum and a new species will pop up in its place.” Yet that’s exactly what transpired at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in the summer of 2012, and perhaps for summers to come.
A proactive approach and long term solution such as radar mapping of bird movements has the potential to become an incredible tool to pilots and air safety controllers. But instead of investing in such technology, NYC and the Port Authority continue to rely solely on limited strategies.
Merritt is the President of DeTect Inc., which produces the MERLIN Avian Radar System, a widely used bird radar system available for conducting bird surveys, research, habitat and migratory studies, and long term and operation monitoring and mitigation of risks. Detect Inc.’s Merlin Radar:
This type of strategy goes hand in hand with the types of habitat modifications suggested by Friends of Animals. All parties can agree birds should be kept as far away from airports as possible, yet geese are attracted to grassy areas near water, exactly the type of environment that surrounds many airports, especially including JFK and LaGuardia. Habitat modification around airports is a vital element in a strategy which prevents bird strikes.
In fact, one of the Merritt’s most fundamental points is that unless there is habitat modification around the airports, geese and other birds will continue to be attracted. Killing geese and birds is a band-aid which in the long term will accomplish little to nothing.
Goose advocates and biologists alike know that in a city the size of New York with eight million human inhabitants, 20,000 geese falls short of the biological carrying capacity. But because of the density of our urban environment, and limited park spaces, the social carrying capacity is reached much sooner, and a certain percentage of the public inevitably complains that there are “too many geese” when geese move in and out of areas leaving droppings behind. Combine this with the perceived threat geese pose to air safety, and a perfect storm of ambivalence and hostility towards the geese making them vulnerable targets.
It’s been said before that when a community is talking about killing geese, it's generally too late to argue to just leave them alone. Goose advocates know that there aren’t “too many geese”, the geese are not dangerous to human health (despite myths and fears to the contrary), and killing them won’t solve anything, but nevertheless the reality is that a majority in the public does believe this, perhaps egged on by the propagation of this same belief by actors in the biology community, aviation industry, the media, and ultimately decision makers.
It’s for these reasons that organizations like Geese Peace, the Humane Society of the United States, and In Defense of Animals to name a few support non-lethal population management techniques with proven long term success of bringing the population of geese in a given area. Most organizations support a diverse strategy approach which includes habitat modification, as well as birth control, egg addling, lawn treatments, harassment, and scare devises.
As a policy, killing should only be justified as a last resort, and these population reduction alternatives should be implemented before killing is ever on the table. The 2012 roundup and slaughter of 750 geese at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge should not have happened before such alternatives were given serious consideration, which they were not, and such mass slaughters could be avoided and rendered unnecessary.
According to In Defense of Animals, the USDA, Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center (WSNWRC) and Innolytics, LLC developed OvoControl-G, an oral contraception specifically for Canada geese. OvoControl-G is administered in bread-like bait and is a safe and environmentally friendly product that is fed to geese by hand or offered at bait stations prior to and during nesting season, which spans 10 weeks each year. OvoControl-G does not kill the geese—it simply prevents them from developing and laying viable eggs. Geese fed OvoControl-G lay fewer eggs, and the ones they do lay are non-viable and do not hatch.
Tom Knudson, a reporter with The Sacramento Bee, recently published a story about USDA Wildlife Services, entitled "Killing is Big Business for Wildlife Agency". Among other things, the story chronicles the development of OvoControl (nicarbazin) by the USDA National Wildlife Research Center, the leading federal lab for wildlife related technology. Knudson also describes the lack of any interest by USDA Wildlife Services, the APHIS operational arm, in adopting the new, bird-friendly product.
Comprehensive strategies and procedures for oiling eggs have been compiled by the Humane Society of the United States and Geese Peace, a proven technique for reducing the size of a large goose population. Harassment by dogs, kites and cut outs can also be used to train geese away from private areas where they are unwanted.