Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Air Rights - To Die For?

400 Geese Killed

In Prospect Park

Was It Necessary?

Federal agents swooped down on Prospect Park last week, removing hundreds of Canada geese and gassing them. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the culling was necessary to protect air travelers. Others dispute that claim.

The best introduction to the story is an article by Isolde Raftery that began on pA1 of Tuesday’s Times and jumped to A22. The apt headline was "400 PARK GEESE DIE, FOR HUMAN FLIERS' SAKE". The story is really well written, and we suggest you click here to read it if you are interested. We appreciate the attention the Times gave to the subject.

A criticism of the story came from the New York City Audubon Society, whose position was described by the Times as "cautiously supportive of the mass euthanizing". In a later statement, the Audubon Society took issue with the Times' description of "NYC Audubon's position on culling resident Canada geese within the five boroughs." They now say:

"NYC Audubon believes that lethal control should be the last resort after all other methods for managing bird populations have been exhausted. The blanket approach of lethal control will not significantly reduce the risk birds pose to aviation safety. We maintain that City officials should reduce the amount of lush, green lawn space available throughout the city, which attracts geese. Without such measures, new geese will take up residence here and populations will quickly rebound to current levels. The City may also limit growth of the resident geese population through egg-addling or nest destruction.

"NYC Audubon also takes issue with the target population size identified by the Department of Agriculture, which calls for reducing the number of Canada geese in the city by 80 percent. This figure is not supported by sound scientific research. The recent cull at Prospect Park included nearly 100 percent of the geese in that area; essentially, this population was 'managed' into extinction. NYC Audubon strongly disagrees with that decision.

"When one species becomes so abundant that it has a negative impact on the habitat and resources of other native bird species - as may be the case with Canada geese - NYC Audubon, like most Audubon chapters, supports population management. But the option of lethal control should be a last resort, undertaken only when bird populations threaten the health, safety, and welfare of other wildlife and humans, and only after a rigorous environmental impact assessment has been done and full disclosure has been made to local citizens and other stakeholders."

Our view of the problem is that important issues have not been answered satisfactorily, and that we lack confidence in the process employed to reach specific decisions on the use of deadly force on animal families.

In fact, Canada geese are often a nuisance in many more ways than causing airplanes to crash, which is very rare. Their droppings litter golf courses and meadows. They eat shoots and small plants, depriving other species of nourishment. They are highly territorial, and hiss and bite when they believe they are intruded upon. Originally migratory birds flying long distances in the spring and fall, many have evolved into permanent residents of local open spaces. They hang around all year instead of flying south in the winter. They can overwhelm ducks, which are smaller waterfowl.

On the other hand, even unpleasant creatures do not deserve the Federal gas chamber to which they have been consigned, in some cases with a degree of arbitrariness. The government's declaration that geese must be killed if they are within seven miles of an airport, considering that Prospect Park is 6.5 miles from both LaGuardia and Kennedy, has the flavor of contrivance. Do the Feds mean to tell us that if the distance had been 7.2 miles, say, the geese and their goslings would have been spared?

The January 2009 collision with Captain Sullenberger's airplane was said to have been caused by migratory geese, not their cousins who amuse Brooklynites at Prospect Park. We think that in cases of capital punishment, the burden of proof is on the executioners. Of course, if human life is actually threatened by the geese, we side with our own species. But we are aware that government programs, once under way, are difficult to limit or restrain, unless there is a powerful lobby representing the other side. In this case, there is no economic interest in the survival of Canada geese, and there is no spokesgoose to represent them.

Another concern is the lack of public discussion on this issue. The searchlight has certainly not reached this government program. We do not recall any opportunity for local input, on either side. It is necessary to protect air travel, but where is the evidence that the indiscriminate slaughter of non-migratory geese is the best way to accomplish that goal? Perhaps the Feds do it because the non-migrants are easier to find and poison. You get better statistics that way.

Part of this outcry is an increasing lack of confidence in the authorities. One need not be a Tea Party ideologue to question the bureaucracy. It would be reassuring to see the science behind the kill. We have heard that the Interior Department originally declined to do the dirty work, so it was shifted to Agriculture, which had no qualms about the work. Perhaps there should be a Federal Bureau of Extermination to organize activities of this nature.

Another suggestion that has been made is that, if this program is to be continued, the geese should be fed to the poor, rather than dumped in a landfill, as was the case with the Prospect Park 400 (or 368, as we have been told). But the policy of providing free or low-cost food might lead to increasing the numbers of poor people, which is not on the Federal agenda.


  1. Anonymous12:13 PM

    Funny last lines but not funny story Canada Geese shoud no longer be protected THey have overwhelmed the capacity to abide them They certainly are not now,if they ever were,an endangered specie-P.M.

  2. Anonymous12:14 PM

    And so, rather than kill the geese, the Audubon Society believes that “City officials should reduce the amount of lush, green lawn space available throughout the city…” Isn’t that lush green lawn space for people? Someone’s priorities are really screwy-M.F.S

  3. Anonymous12:14 PM

    Henry, At times you are too much of a bleeding heart….the approach last week was prudent and very necessary – and long overdue. I suggest if the Audubon or the Leftist Times folks – or you – have a real problem with this solution, then you all should come up with a solution and implement it via your own sweat equity. Otherwise, stop the bleeding hear mantra…NYC-J.E.T

  4. Anonymous12:15 PM

    Clearly, it was a slow news day for you to spend such time and effort on this issue. The “ burden of proof is on the executioners”, please. Why don’t we just wait until a plane is downed by the proper type of geese and then get outraged. This is not a question of the survival of the Canadian geese specie which has an enormous population. Although I am a progressive, I think we are getting a little nuts on issues like this-R.T.M.

  5. Anonymous12:16 PM

    Good article-Ar

  6. Anonymous12:16 PM

    Your Geese story was perfect.J.S

  7. Anonymous12:17 PM


  8. Anonymous12:18 PM

    Hi Henry-The Audubon Society says: “We maintain that City officials should reduce the amount of lush, green lawn space available throughout the city, which attracts geese.”
    Do they really want to pave over our parks? Or simply replace lush green lawns with green rubber padding.

  9. Anonymous12:22 PM

    I heard it was more like 1,200 on the radio news....FYI-S.B

  10. Anonymous12:24 PM

    Henry: Here’s a suggestion.
    Let licensed / owner controlled dogs off the leash (Unlicensed / poor behaving dogs should be subject to owner fines). One, properly trained dog on an 18 hole golf course eliminates the problem. The geese don’t like playing with the dog and leave. The dog moves on to smaller prey that perch in trees and laugh at the canine annoyance.
    Gassing is a sign of desperate / incompetent park management-J.B

  11. Anonymous12:25 PM

    Henry: Here’s a suggestion.
    Let licensed / owner controlled dogs off the leash (Unlicensed / poor behaving dogs should be subject to owner fines). One, properly trained dog on an 18 hole golf course eliminates the problem. The geese don’t like playing with the dog and leave. The dog moves on to smaller prey that perch in trees and laugh at the canine annoyance.
    Gassing is a sign of desperate / incompetent park management-J.B

  12. Anonymous12:26 PM

    StarQiest... I hope you're not becoming a spokesgoose. The Canada goose is an aggravating pest, both in the city and upstate in Kinderhook. A number of towns in Westchester and along the Conn. shore have tried various ways to keep these filthy, aggressive birds on the move. One town trains dogs to patrol the waterfront and charge at the geese whenever they land.
    They are an invasive species, too. The only good thing to come out of the crash of Sully's plane was the vaporization of an unknown number of Canada geese-C.W.

  13. Anonymous12:27 PM

    Better to kill Canadian geese than them exterminate American humans!!-W.L.H

  14. Anonymous12:27 PM

    Henry, as a Franciscan priest whose founder St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and the ecology, I found this action to be cruel and inhumane. To have the local leader of the National Audubon Society to give apprival is abhorrent! If they imported these geese from the Midwest and Canada, they could have easily exported back to those same places, this time not near airports. This was mass murder by the Federal government. I am writing a letter to the Times about this tragedy-B.j.j

  15. Anonymous12:28 PM

    There does not need to have public discussion on the geese! they are a mess in our NYC parks...I am tired of everything, everything ! there is always now a negative group, wanting to fight, stop what is necessary!
    This goes for our governement, our day to day living! we have become a very negative country....Let's grow up! People find problems with geo-thermal when introduced! We need to become mature and not fight every problem....and accept what is right in the long distance!-C.A

  16. Anonymous12:29 PM

    Did you see my op-ed on buses in Friday's NY Post? I was surprised to see no mention of it in your blog-E.S.S

  17. Anonymous12:29 PM

    Thank you for highlighting this issue. When I read the piece, I felt dismayed and angered. If we kill geese today, maybe squirrels tomorrow? What about crows? Who will make these deadly decisions? We are a delicate eco-structure that man has decided to imbalance, and I believe that in this matter, less is more.
    All the best-S.J.B

  18. Anonymous12:30 PM

    i think this was unnecessary and horrible. I suggest we kill the flyers and protect the geese-E.R

  19. Anonymous12:31 PM

    Think of a 40 lb feathered brick hurtling towards the windscreen of your car at 200 mph, which is more important, your life or that of the feathered brick. For the Geese in public parks, each one defecates about 4lbs a day in geese feces. The town of Hempstead's single largest park expense is geese's feces removal so that we slovenly humans can use the park. The nerve of these bricks. The Geese's are only edible if they aren't the flying goats of NY. They are tough and stringy, unlike domesticated geeses, or even the wild ones that hunters love to riddle with pellets. Or if the goose is lucky and your hunting with Dick Chenny the Riddler, you-M.S

  20. Anonymous12:33 PM

    At the end of the article it said in another city, Phila. I believe, they used the geese for food to feed the hungary. Is that an option in NYC? There are still plenty of geese here in Whitestone and we are pretty close to LaGuardia Airport. I saw some yesterday on the East River. I enjoy your articles-D.C

  21. Anonymous12:34 PM

    Do you think it's true as I've heard that the local goose population is the result of geese which had their wings clipped to attract their brethren for hunters; and their hatchlings considered this area home? They are a huge problem out here on LI close to JFK because of the droppings. It's horrible to take a walk in the part because the droppings are so dense, and the schoolyards are filled as well. I've often thought they should be harvested for food kitchens which now, more than ever, are in need of supplies. Frankly, if they were harvested from the parks and school grounds, I don't think I'd miss them-R.T

  22. Anonymous12:37 PM


  23. Anonymous12:38 PM

    Thank you for writing this article.
    I'd like to know who, specifically, is responsible for the decision to exterminate the geese. What is the name of the person that played god in this situation?-L.L

  24. Anonymous12:38 PM

    We are also getting pressure not to kill rats with glue traps-B.A

  25. Anonymous12:39 PM

    Agatha Christie predicted this Henry ... it is clearly a case of ..."murder most fowl"-A.P.

  26. Anonymous12:40 PM

    Hi there,
    You probably don't want to hear this but they should have advertised a feast and had people come to cook their best and feed the hungry. If this were the third world they would have had a party-D.S

  27. Anonymous12:41 PM -D.C.M.P

  28. Anonymous12:42 PM

    I like your line about ‘spokesgoose’. J.S

  29. Anonymous5:10 PM

    One point of information re: Canada geese (aka—non migratory hybrid androids); in your e-missive you suggest the possibility of donating the ‘gassed geese’ to the underserved. This concept is routinely dismissed due to the inordinate amount of pesticides that are consumed by the species (i.e.: golf course glyphosate pesticide applications—and worse). When the geese consume ‘sprayed’ grasses—it is, of course trophically passed up the food chain to the next consumer-M.M

  30. Anonymous4:33 PM

    Yes get rid of the Geese and let's hear it for Population Control as we continue to face economic hardships on our society's ability to provide services-A.L.B

  31. Anonymous5:58 PM

    Reminded me of the gassing done during WWII. Someone else is always "the pest" and needs to be exterminated. I am totally appalled.
    On the other hand, something nice in Riverside Park (or maybe the Hudson Riverfront Park?): there is a little bridge closed off to pedestrians with a sign to stay on the path to pretect the baby geese -- there are only Canada geese up there. And the geese around here are afraid of people, noise, dogs, and bicycles, nor do they fly high enough to bring down the plane. Let's learn to live with one another. And yes, I like rats, too. It's the humans who pass more diseases around than rats and pigeons combined.

  32. Anonymous6:45 AM

    Why don't they do that to the pigeons? Filthy beasts.

  33. Anonymous1:47 PM

    In the July 15 issue of The Columbia Paper upstate, there was an article titled "These dogs show flocks to the door" about two companies that provide Border collies to municipalities, golf courses et al. to alleviate their Canada geese problem. The geese are not harmed by the dogs but they become unsettled by their presence and after a few weeks will move to another location. Certainly, a viable and better solution than what was done here. See and