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Thursday, January 22, 2009

What’s Good for the Goose

Birds were in the news last week, and not in a good way. A flock of Canada geese is suspected of downing a US Airways jet as it left LaGuardia Airport in New York, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River. Thankfully, all 155 people aboard the plane made it out.

Jets are designed to withstand bird strikes, and a bird flying into an engine is usually not noticeable to pilots or passengers. As Ki Mae Heussner reported on, about 80 percent of bird strikes are not even recorded. In extremely rare cases—especially during takeoff, which was apparently the case last week—jets and birds sharing the same air space can endanger more than just the birds.

Canada goose Canada geese are known more for fouling residential lawns, parks, and golf courses than for interfering with aviation. The migratory birds, which were captured and relocated decades ago to many parts of the country, have now taken up residence year-round in urban and suburban neighborhoods. The Humane Society of the United States and GeesePeace have been working with property owners and community leaders to solve goose conflicts, which are largely aesthetic but also deal with public health and safety.

Congress, too, has shown leadership in this area. Thanks to the efforts of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the 2004 appropriations bill included $200,000 for pilot programs to reduce goose conflicts on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley. The funding was used to train federal and state agencies and local volunteers on a series of humane strategies to control goose populations, including the use of border collies to safely herd geese and chase them from areas where they aren’t wanted, and the oiling of eggs to prevent more births.

Killing geese through methods such as round-ups, gassing, and asphyxiation is not only inhumane, but also ineffective at solving local conflicts. No matter how many birds are removed, neighboring geese will be attracted to the same lawns and ponds, will soon fill the vacancy, and will continue reproducing. The nonlethal strategies, such as those advocated by HSUS and GeesePeace and funded by Congress in 2004, are not only more humane but have proven more successful over the long run.

Shockingly, some conservative pundits like Sean Hannity are now exploiting the US Airways crash to throw mud at Schumer and mock the congressional funding of New York’s urban wildlife program. Their critique, however, smells like partisan goose droppings. Although there’s a general distaste for earmarks, this project was a textbook example of how earmarks should work. The federal government did not make an open-ended commitment, but made an initial investment to develop an innovative program which is now funded and sustained by local communities.

Thanks to this funding, hundreds of volunteers were trained and tens of thousands of goose eggs were prevented from hatching. It’s become a source of pride for towns like Hempstead and Oyster Bay, which now help to spread the word to other municipalities in the region. It was the federal seed money that planted confidence in a local government that it could use nonlethal management techniques and provide its citizens with a successful, popular, environmentally sound program. Humane urban wildlife control programs prevent all sorts of problems, improve our quality of life, and reduce risks to public health and safety—they are actually a tremendous investment.

Canada-geese-flying Animal advocates have urged the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to adopt a humane goose control program on Rikers Island, which is home to a large flock of Canada geese and is also in the flight path for LaGuardia Airport. Instead, the Port Authority has hired federal agents to kill hundreds of geese by netting and gassing—which, as we saw last week, hasn’t made the skies safer.

As President Obama said in his inaugural address this week, the question “is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” We need innovative thinking to solve big problems and small, and that applies to urban wildlife conflicts, too. We need real leadership, such as that shown by Sen. Schumer, to find solutions that work—for people and animals. Good goose management is a wildlife success story.


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