New York State Plans the Gooseageddon

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Usually when we’re writing about wildlife here at Ecocentric, we’re describing efforts to conserve biodiversity in the face of development, pollution and climate change. (Unless we’re just talking about big, fat marmots.) But when it comes to Canada geese, the state of New York has different ideas. The New York Times is reporting that the state wants to reduce its resident population of Canada geese from around 250,000 to 85,000—meaning 170,000 geese would be “eliminated,” as a nine-page report on the subject puts it. Eliminated as in killed. (Read the report here.)

Why would city and state officials want to remove these soaring immigrants from our northern neighbor? The truth is Canada geese—especially in a densely populated metropolitan area like New York City—are a nuisance. They poop like crazy—up to 1 lb. per bird per day—and beyond the stink factor, bird excrement can contain dangerous bacteria and pose a threat to drinking water supplies.

But the real danger that these seemingly innocent avian animals present is to aircraft. Remember United Flight 1549 and Captain Sully’s miracle landing on the Hudson River in January 2009? That was only necessary because the plane struck a flock of Canada geese approximately four miles from LaGuardia Airport, seriously damaging both of its engines. Though Sullenberger’s heroics ensured that all 155 passengers and crew survived, the $60 million aircraft was a wreck. And that was far from the only such event—the report found that over the past 10 years there have been 78 reported Canada goose strikes in New York, causing more than $2.2 million worth of damage. There were 676 bird strikes around JFK airport between 2004 and 2008, and 410 around LaGuardia over the same time period. Nationally Canada geese are considered the third most hazardous animals for aircraft to hit, after deer and vultures. (I’m going to assume planes are hitting those deer when they land—otherwise we have a much bigger problem than the overpopulation of Canada geese: flying deer.)

Government wildlife agencies have a favored method for culling the population of birds like Canada geese: shooting them. But that’s not really possible in New York City, which has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation—and even if hunting with shotguns were allowed, the chance of a person getting caught in the crossfire in such a densely populated region is all too likely. So the plan instead will be to gather the geese where possible, capture them—possibly using sedatives or, awesomely, rocket nets. Then, according to the report, biologists will “euthanize [the geese] with methods approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association.”

It’s that last part that may have animal rights groups up in arms. As I wrote last summer in TIME, when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan to cull up to 2,000 Canada geese from city-owned properties, he experienced some blowback:

Animal lovers are livid over what they see as needless slaughter — a debate repeated almost everywhere Canada geese are being culled. In New York City, it didn’t help when Bloomberg commented that gassing geese amounted to “letting them go to sleep with nice dreams.” Pro-goose activists picketed at Union Square as well as at Bloomberg’s posh Manhattan home. “Are we going to extinguish every single bird in the sky?” asks Edita Birnkrant, New York director of Friends of Animals.

In the end, though, the cull still went ahead—and chances are this larger extermination will too. Canada geese have adapted almost too well to our cities and suburbs, with their lush lawns, parks, golf course and ponds. They won’t leave unless we force them—which means they’re goose is, yes, cooked.