NYC implements plans to exterminate area geese, are there alternatives?

By Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved

The city of New York began a program in June of 2009 to exterminate 2,000 local area geese. The geese being targeted are those found within a five mile radius of JFK and LaGuardia Airports in an attempt to insure airline safety.

Canada geese are believed to be the reason for the splash landing of US Airways flight 1549 last January. Forensic evidence from feathers retrieved from the plane’s engines has shown that the geese involved in the incident were migratory geese flying from Canada and not the local geese population that are the object of the termination efforts. Efforts to extinguish the geese are timed to begin with the bird’s molting season, wherein they loose older wing feathers, raise young and are unable to fly. According to a story published in the June 12, 2009 edition of The New York Times, the city plans to gas the majority of the geese. There are no plans to donate the bodies of the geese to local area food banks.

The Humane Society of the United States has objected to the plan advocating alternative non-violent tactics that would basically serve to alter the environment so that it is no longer attractive to the geese. Hazing or the use of recorded “screamer” goose calls, balloons and scarecrows are some strategies that deter geese. The New York Times reported that although the city has rejected these recommendations a bird radar has been installed at Kennedy airport on a trial basis.

Over the last forty years North America has seen a dramatic increase in the Canada goose populations that do not migrate but rather reside year round in our area. During this period changes in our agricultural practices have resulting in more than tripled corn production, and more than doubled production of wheat and rice, all a favored food of geese. The substantial increase in the use of nitrogenous fertilizer has enabled us to grow more foodstuffs as well as have greener lawns, an added goose appeal.

Wildlife biologists have been battling management of the Canada goose populations with human interests for some time with varied success. Bryan L. Swift reported on studies conducted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation from 1993-2000 in Rockland County. The most effective techniques to manage geese populations were found in the use of border collies to chase geese from areas (although geese do tend to settle in other nearby areas). Egg-addling (puncturing goose eggs to prevent hatching) will also reduce goose populations. All management efforts require coordination and labor and Dr. Swift concluded this might most effectively be done with the use of “municipal ‘goose control officers.’”

Mark Hostetler and David Drake, both wildlife biologists published an article in Landscape and Urban Planning. The scientists reviewed the current popularity of conservation subdivisions, a design concept wherein newly built homes are clustered together to maximize open green space for conservation purposes. While a popular idea, the actual practice has resulted in human wildlife conflicts.

The idea of sharing our habitat with wildlife may take some getting used to and require more space to do it in. We may want to view deer in the wild but not in our flower beds. And golfers and geese have different uses for grass. Coyotes, mountain lions and alligators all consider companion animals fair prey not pets. The writers point out that clustering homes in a corner of the subdivision rather than throughout it creates a larger and more usable conservation area for wildlife. Another key concept invoked is working with wildlife biologists in all phases of the development process, including the inclusion of an “on-site robust education program that would address wildlife issues and conservation and would describe the best management practices (and the importance thereof) for maintaining the biological integrity of the conserved areas.”

Signage, homeowner associations, local websites and restrictive covenants are all proposed as implementing guidelines.

For more information: The geese are rounded up into wooden crates with the use of force and taken to a separate location to be gassed. This process is highly stressful to the birds. A much more humane practice would be to exterminate the animals at the capture site. A petition to stop the gassing and The Gothamist has also been covering this story.

Swift, Brian, L. (2000). Suburban goose management: insights from New York state, The Ninth Wildlife Damage Management Conference Proceedings, State College, PA, Lincoln: Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management

Hostetler, H.A.& Drake, D. (2009) Conservation subdivisions: A wildlife perspective. Landscape and Urban Planning (90) 95–101

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