Their Goose Is Cooked

The hunt will take place within five miles of Kennedy and LaGuardia

New York City plans to trap and gas as many as 2,000 Canada geese over the next few weeks in an attempt to avoid the type of collision that caused an airliner to ditch in the Hudson River last winter.

The hunt will take place on dozens of city properties within five miles of Kennedy and LaGuardia airports.

Aviation officials have culled bird flocks on airport property for years, but this will mark a major expansion of the effort into other parts of the city.

Some 40 public parks will be swept free of geese, including Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens. The roundup, carried out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is being timed with the molting season, when the geese can't fly. It is scheduled to begin within a week.

“The serious dangers that Canada geese pose to aviation became all too clear when geese struck U.S. Airways Flight 1549,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a written statement.

The jet had just taken off from LaGuardia and was 2,800 feet over the Bronx when it smacked into a flock and lost both engines. Pilot Chesley Sullenberger became a national hero when he set the plane down safely in the river.

The episode brought attention to the hazard that birds can pose to aircraft, especially in New York City, where some of the nation's busiest airports sit side by side with bird-rich wetlands.

Bird lovers expressed mixed feelings about the culling program Thursday.

Glenn Phillips, executive director at the New York City Audubon Society, said the Canada goose population in the city and its suburbs has indeed soared to an unnatural level in recent years as the birds have flourished in a habitat with plenty of lawn for grazing and few predators.

But he said he was unconvinced that the kill will make flying safer. There are an estimated 25,000 Canada geese living in the metropolitan area, and killing a few hundred or even 2,000 won't make much of a difference.

It's clear that we can't really rule out killing Canada geese,” he said. “We have an obligation to manage their population. That said, we also have an obligation to manage their population in a way that is humane.”

Tens of thousands of birds, mostly gulls, have been shot over the past few decades as part of a wildlife control effort run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, but much of that effort has taken place out of public view.

The Port Authority said it is taking other steps to beef up its bird-control program, including hiring a second full-time wildlife biologist, training more airport personnel to use shotguns, and installing an experimental radar system that may be able to track flocks of birds moving into congested airspace.

Next week, the agency will also begin its sixth annual goose roundup at Rikers Island. The island sits less than a mile from the runways at LaGuardia and had been home for years to a growing geese colony, now much diminished due to the annual hunts.

USDA spokeswoman Carol Bannerman said the agency culls bird flocks around airports nationwide. She said it tried for years to control bird populations near airports by trapping and relocating the birds, but the transplanted animals did so well their populations became unmanageable.

Now, they are euthanized using carbon dioxide gas. In some places their meat is turned into goose burgers and given to the homeless, she said, but New York has decided to dispose of the carcasses instead.

The agency also oiled 900 goose eggs in or near the city this spring, which prevents the goslings from developing. It is also experimenting with birth control medications for the birds.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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