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 ABCNews.com, 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 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.
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.