On July 8, 2010, the residents of the Prospect Park area in Brooklyn, NY awoke to find the otherwise boisterous lake in their park almost entirely devoid of waterfowl. Citizens and neighbors
asked, "What happened to all the geese?" Park officials initially claimed the birds "flew to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge," but park-goers realized that molting geese and their babies cannot
fly. The New York Times was notified and following investigation, broke the story
which later went national
In the early hours of that July morning, 368 geese and baby goslings were rounded up by the USDA, trucked to JFK Airport, gassed to death, double-bagged, and dumped in a
landfill. Entire families were wiped out with deadly fumes as New Yorkers went to work on a ordinary Thursday morning, with no inkling of what was secretly happening right
under their noses in "Brooklyn's Backyard."
The slaughter had been carried out by USDA Wildlife Services, through a contract taken out by the City of New York subsequent the "Miracle on the Hudson" crash as part of a long term goal to
manage the local Canada goose population and reduce the number geese statewide by 80%. The Prospect Park Canada goose slaughter raised important questions, but many have found the
Using canoes and netting, the USDA corral the flightless geese and their young, they are separated into small pens, plastic zip-ties are used to bind their feet together, and they are shoved
into mobile gas chambers to be killed, or sent to commercial processors for slaughter. Carbon dioxide is the standard gas used by USDA to kill the geese. Carbon dioxide asphyxiation is an
especially cruel process that slowly strangles geese for many anguishing minutes as they struggle to breathe.
Some voiced complaints that by disposing the geese in landfills after they were killed, their meat had been wasted. The USDA has since announced that New York City's geese would be
"processed" and sent food banks. This public relations ploy quelled some of the public's criticism. Yet, wild goose meat can be extremely harmful to one's health. Wild geese travel to many
different locations, are exposed to various toxins including mercury and lead, and eat grass that in public parks which is routinely sprayed with pesticides. Many chemical residues and
possible PCB's can remain in the tissues of wild geese who do not come from a controlled environment. Often such meat is fed to people without proper, complete and individual testing.
For six weeks from early June until late July, members of GooseWatch watched the sun come up in the company of molting Canada geese, and in many cases their goslings.
In Manhattan, we covered Morningside Park, with 12 geese including a family of newborn goslings, Riverside Park, a sprawling park on the west side of Manhattan with several locations with nesting
geese which we later learned was a roundup site, Central Park, home of a new family of geese (which even gained some notoriety on Humans of New York
's website), and Inwood
Hill Park, a 2011 roundup site with a new family of geese; East River State Park in Brooklyn, a previous roundup site with two families of geese and several other residents; Brookville Park in
Queens, Kissena Park, and Little Bay Park.
We also were able to some extent to cover Clove Lake Park and Silver Lake Park in Staten Island, however, we know this was the site of a roundup and we were not there that day.
By spreading out across the city we were able to reach more people, and our volunteers met people in all five boroughs who were outraged to learn about the killing and willing to help. We
recieved phone calls from many different people who found our number, most were interested in helping, some just wanted to know what was going on. One young man in particular was memorable
because he spent the first minute and a half of the call cursing us out without even taking a break, thinking we were the USDA. In the end, we made critical contacts in several different parks
across the city that allowed us to keep close contact on the geese we sought to protect.
Our efforts were covered in mostly positive ways by a number of media outlets, some were local NYC neighborhood papers like the Brooklyn Paper, Queens Times Ledger, and AFP. We grabbed further headlines by holding a large protest outside Mayor Bloomberg's mansion when we learned that over 200 geese had already been killed in parks throughout the city, and
GooseWatch founder was interviewed with HLN's Jane Velez-Mitchell.
The story thus far has overlooked one big park: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. We should have anticipated a problem
when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced her support for a roundup and slaughter of the geese there, describing the threat as imminent. We were in fact investigating at Jamaica Bay Wildlife
Refuge the first day goslings were
found and in fact knew there was a large population of geese and more families expected. While no roundup had ever been allowed at the refuge we feared that a powerful senator could have
Unfortunately, staking out the refuge was also a logistical nightmare. None of our members had a way to get there, and since we were unsure whether or not a roundup would occur there, ultimately
we decided against allocating our resources to the refuge. We protested the announcement by Sen.
Gillibrand, and GooseWatch NYC was granted a meeting with
her office. However, it was not enough.
Every winter, millions of birds including geese fly through the region. Killing geese cannot reduce the threat of bird strikes in any meaningful way, and we have seen the attention shift from
areas where significant action are needed to improve safety for the lives of airplane passengers. The annual roundup and slaughter of Canada geese in NYC is a great shame.
We are grateful to members of the public and elected officials who have spoken out about the slaughters. We are grateful to the experts who have come out against the killing of geese in NYC,
including avation leaders, biologists, and veternarians.