07/27/2010 12:14 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Who Will Weep for the Geese? New York's Mass Avian Murder Plot

On Friday, The New York Times reported that the State of New York is planning to massacre approximately 170,000 Canada geese, as part of a strategy to increase the safety of passenger aircraft. The Times quotes the Department of Agriculture as approving of the plan, with an official stating that the state is "leading the way." The geese would be put in crates, gassed, and buried.

I'm a bit surprised that more attention isn't being paid to this barbaric plan, which seems to have been relatively uncontroversial. In fact, the geese-killings are being reported quite lightly. The multi-agency report recommending the slaughter was amicably agreed to by all involved, merely pointing out that the geese were not meeting current "population goals." The Albany Herald cheerfully punned that the geese were running "afowl," and back when Canada geese first started being vilified by New Yorkers (when they put Flight 1549 in the Hudson River), the New York Post quoted a "wildlife biologist" as suggesting that gassing didn't go far enough:

[Garber] sees nothing wrong with shooting them, poking holes in their eggs, shaking their eggs so the embryos are destroyed, wrecking their nests, or taking any number of other measures to eradicate the pesky and dangerous geese. 'There are lots of ways,' he said. 'You can throw rocks at them. You can hit them with sticks.'

New York has apparently already been gassing geese, although the exact quantities are so far unknown. But the mass extermination now being readied is really and truly horrible. And it's all being perpetrated because of $2.2 million worth of airplane damage, according to the Times. Not a figure to scoff at, but hardly much over ten years for an industry with profits in the billions. I'm astounded that the whole plan can be treated as a simple matter of economical decision-making. How can cost-effectiveness or safety precautions justify the mass taking of life? Violence on this scale should never be treated as a rational option. Perhaps the geese create risk for us, but we create risks for the geese too. (Do remember that geese die when they hit planes. They're surely just as unhappy about these interactions as we are.) Living in nature requires acceptance of its dangers. That we would consider mass murder as a method of avoiding a small, naturally-occurring flight risk is a troubling reflection on our character.

I think this goose story has been treated with far too much irreverence, and should be taken more seriously than it has been. TIME magazine may have been accurate when it called the plan "Gooseageddon," but it's an event that calls for outrage rather than flippancy.