Why did New York City approve a massacre of 400 geese in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park?

Geese Swimming in Prospect Park Lake Once Upon A Time

It’s now one week since the rounding up, killing and gassing of the beloved Prospect Park geese, a fact that seems more astounding as time goes by. Why did Prospect Park administrators and NYC Parks Department officials sign off on the murder of the entire flock of 400 of the park’s resident geese? It’s still unknown how much discussion was involved or who exactly gave the final approval – was it the Prospect Park Alliance – the conservancy that oversees the park? The city parks department? Mayor Michael Bloomberg himself? Why wasn’t the public notified? A federal agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, conducted the raid on the geese under cover of darkness in the middle of the night no doubt to avoid any “YouTube moments” — with no public notification. The geese were then gassed in an unnamed nearby building. Curious to know what building has been set up to serve as a gas chamber in Prospect Park or the immediate area? And what agency runs it? Did they produce an environmental impact statement?

The New York Times reported that the City’s Parks Department “signed permission for the removal of the birds” and U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesperson Carol Bannerman told the Associated Press in late June, “We can only go onto properties where we have permission.” So who gave permission and how did they arrive at that decision?

Clearly, bureaucracy comes into play between city, state and federal agencies but the New York City Parks Department could have said NO. They had a strong argument for doing so. And, in fact, others have. Dana Rubenstein from the New York Observer reported on July 13th:

In early June, Dave Avrin, the director of Gateway National Park in Queens, earned himself an angry editorial in the Daily News when he, unlike the city, resisted the federal government’s efforts to cull the geese who live in his park.

“Our mission is to protect and preserve wildlife—that’s a law—and it isn’t a given that the removal of the geese is necessary to protect the flying public,” Mr. Avrin told the AP. This, even though the park is much closer to JFK Airport than Prospect Park.

At a Protest in front of Port Authority Headquarters last year

Last year, I attended protests outside the Port Authority (which controls the air space) and City Hall advocating on behalf of the geese and against the killing. I handed out flyers with many others and spoke to people passing by. We knew then, as NYC Audubon has now stated, that this mass killing is “not supported by sound science,” that there are always alternatives.

This is being done more for p.r. than air safety.

After gloating about this issue last year (claiming that the geese are just “going to sleep” and “having sweet dreams”), this year, Mayor Bloomberg was curiously quiet, no doubt to avoid the scores of protesters who last year showed up outside his home to protest.

These geese lived mainly between Prospect Park and nearby Green-Wood Cemetery – they were rounded up while they were moulting, feet bound, and taken from their their mates and goslings, and gassed in a nearby Park building. All under the direction of the USDA in a continuation of last year’s misguided policy of rounding up and killing geese within a 5 mile radius of the two main New York City airports. This year the radius of roundup was increased to 7 miles; officials concluded that this 2 mile increase was to now include Prospect Park. But many of the geese that were killed throughout the city were resident that did not fly into airline pathways. As Mitchel Cohen wrote, the killing of these geese, our friends, was “just a ruse and accomplishes nothing.”

Does this policy even makes sense? Is it effective? Are there no alternatives? And why was it kept from the public, as former New York City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern asks on his blog.

I wrote a bit about my own personal experience with the Prospect Park geese on my LUMA blog here.

Dana Rubenstein continues:

The geese culling frenzy stems, of course, from the January 15 crash landing of a U.S. Airways flight in the Hudson River after geese were sucked into the plane’s engines. Remember? This was the Miracle on the Hudson, in which no one died. According to the same AP article, which cited FAA stats, between 1990 and 2008, there were just 11 civilian deaths resulting from about 1,200 bird-plane collisions in the U.S., but the guilty birds were “not necessarily geese.”

Far more airline-related deaths are caused by the intense working conditions of the Air Traffic Controllers and pilots, and the breaking of their unions, which have allowed the government to increase their workload and dangerously shorten response times. The whole “kill the birds if they get in our way” policy by NYC Parks Department officials is especially ironic as we are inundated with pictures of thousands of people trying desperately to save birds in the Gulf of Mexico. And so it goes.

– Cathryn Swan

[Residents, Park-goers, Wildlife Advocates are holding a Vigil for the Prospect Park Geese, Saturday, July 17th, 6:30 p.m. near the Prospect Park Lake, Southwest side of the park, enter at Vanderbilt Street or the Park Circle.  F train to Fort Hamilton Parkway stop – exit towards Prospect Avenue/Reeve Place. Everyone is invited.]

top photo: Cathryn

bottom photo: Jennifer Dudley

Part I: The Killing of the Prospect Park Geese, Part I

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The Killing of the Prospect Park Geese, Pt I

Prospect Park Geese in Prospect Park Lake -- No Longer

Last Thursday, July 8th, 400 Resident Geese of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park were rounded up and killed in the middle of the night under the dubious notion that this will make air travel in the New York City metropolitan area safe. Mitchel Cohen of the No Spray Coalition, a group which works to fight against and educate about toxic pesticide spraying by the City of New York, wrote the following letter to Susan Elbin of the New York City Audobon. Ms. Elbin is quoted in the New York Times story which appeared July 12th and answered the question of the disappearance of the geese, as park-goers noted them suddenly gone over the weekend with no notice. Ms. Elbin later responded that the NYC Aubobon position was “incorrectly characterized” in the story – nonetheless, the points in Mr. Cohen’s letter, posted below, are worth noting.

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July 13th, 2010

Dear Ms. Elbin,

Today’s NY Times quotes you as supporting the federal government’s (USDA’s) invasion of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park last Thursday to round up, bind, and murder (gassing) of 400 wonderful Canadian geese who were resident geese in our park.

Susan Elbin, conservation director at New York City Audubon, was cautiously supportive of the mass euthanizing. “There are ways to manage birds nonlethally,” Ms. Elbin said. “But if you’re trying to manage a population level, sometimes those hard decisions need to be made.”

It is beyond comprehension that you, speaking on behalf of the NYC Audubon society, would rationalize this horror. I am flabbergasted that you did not point out to the NY Times that:

the Prospect Park geese — and in fact most of the geese that they have been rounding up and killing — were “resident geese” who lived in the Park and nearby Greenwood Cemetery year round;

after Flight 1549 came down in January 2009, the Smithsonian Institute issued a report stating that the plane collided with a flock of MIGRATORY geese, distinct from resident geese;

Killing resident geese does nothing to heighten air safety; it is a ruse enabling the Bloomberg administration, the NYC Parks Department, and the USDA to make it look like they’re doing something when what they’re doing is ineffective and cruel;

In other countries, they track birds’ migratory patterns — which are fairly consistent and can be noted by radar — and change airline flight routes accordingly so that they don’t hit birds. But the exigencies in the making of corporate profits here make it too inconvenient and costly for the giant airlines companies and US officials to change the flight patterns of their airplanes. It’s much easier and financially profitable to get the government to go in and pretend they’re doing something — even if what they’re doing is in actuality totally irrelevant to protecting public safety.

– The geese in Prospect Park were a joy to behold. Children loved feeding them; they befriended them, and helped those who were injured. These geese — our friends! — became the gateway through which children (and adults) learned to care about nature. And now the government has killed them, unnecessarily. Tell that to the kids, that the government has murdered their friends. And tell them that the NYC Audubon supports such cruelty.

– While the Bloomberg administration tries to wash its hands of any responsibility, the NYC Parks Department “signed permission for the removal of the birds” instead of opposing it and alerting the public, thus setting this whole chain of events into motion;

– The wildlife biologists and technicians who “descended on the park Thursday morning and herded the birds into a fenced area,” and who were “working with the federal Agriculture Department, then packed the geese two or three to a crate and took them to a nearby building where they were gassed with lethal doses of carbon dioxide,” are criminals who should have their licenses removed every bit as much as medical professionals who “assist” in torture in Guantanamo are acting in violation of their oaths and purpose.

Shame on the NYC Audubon for not protecting such species as resident geese. The Audubon Society has a certain amount of credibility on these issues and should be far more critical of government decisions that are harming natural life.

Mitchel Cohen, on behalf of the Brooklyn Greens / Green Party, and
Coordinator, No Spray Coalition (against toxic pesticides)

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NYC Audobon’s Susan Elbin then responded, excerpted below, stating that the Times “incorrectly characterized” the organization’s position:

NYC Audubon believes that lethal control should be the last resort after all other methods have been pursued. We have repeatedly maintained that New York City has not taken appropriate measures to reduce goose habitat, and that without such measures populations will quickly rebound to current levels.

NYC Audubon also takes issue with the target populations called for by the Department of Agriculture, a reduction of 80% of the population in the city, as we believe that it is not supported by sound science, and that the risk to aviation safety will not be significantly reduced by this approach. The recent cull at Prospect Park represented nearly 100% of the birds; that is managing a population into extinction. NYC Audubon strongly disagrees with that decision.

The full statement can be found on their web site here.

NYC Audobon does have some suggestions to prevent this in the future – of course it is too late for the 400 wonderful Prospect Park geese!

What You Can Do to Help

If you share NYC Audubon’s opinion that the City should develop a more scientifically sound plan for managing Canada geese, please make your voice heard! You can help us reach our goal of having 1,000 people register formal complaints with the City. All you have to do is call 311 (or 212-NEW-YORK from outside of NYC) and register a complaint. There are several important things to remember when phoning 311 with your complaint:

* When registering a complaint, its important to say that you would like to “register an opinion with the Mayor.”

* It’s possible that 311 operators will attempt to categorize your complaint. The appropriate category for this type of issue is “Environment.”

* It’s possible that 311 operators will ask you about the date and time of the incident (WSP Blog note: July 8th).

* Please e-mail us your tracking number so we can follow up on it later. Emails can be sent to: info@nycaudubon.org

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Part II: Why did New York City approve a massacre of 400 geese in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park?

Washington Square Park July 4th, 2010

WSP Sign Amidst Echinacea

4th of July Fountain Frolic

Piano Player in the Park with Audience and ... Clown

More photos of WSP Phase II construction coming later in the next week… Interrupting the WSP Blog summer break to bring these to you!

Photos: Cathryn.