Van Cortlandt Park’s goose population is smaller, but the Canadian honkers haven’t flown north for the summer. The federal Department of Agriculture has removed 27 Canadian geese from the park and its golf course. The removal was part of an effort by the department to reduce concentrations of geese that could pose a hazard to aviation in the New York City area.
The department inspects locations within a seven-mile radius of any New York Port Authority airport and determines if the fowl population there is dangerous enough to warrant removal. Inspections typically take place during the spring and in early June and are usually focused on New York City parks and golf courses.
The criteria that determine the level of risk in any given area were developed by the New York City Airports Wildlife Hazard Management Steering Committee, which was formed in 2009 to coordinate Canadian geese and other wildlife mitigation efforts in the New York Metropolitan area.
Any property inspected within five miles of an airport with ten or more geese is considered eligible for the operation, and any property inspected between five to seven miles is considered eligible with twenty or more geese.
However, The USDA inspectors take a number of factors into account when determining the level of danger in the area. “It’s a combination of things that make up hazard,” said Carol Bannerman, spokesperson for the USDA Animal and Plant Heath Inspection Service, “That is the number of geese observed, their impact on the park itself, the capacity for it to become a hazard, as well as any efforts that would discourage an abundance of geese at the park.” Such efforts on the part of the parks can create flexibility for the inspectors’ decision.
The USDA must obtain a permit from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service before beginning their removal. The geese lose their flight feathers for a period of a month while molting.
During this process, on the week of June 17th, the geese were herded into a temporarily fenced area and placed into poultry crates. The geese were then sent to poultry processing plants throughout the area and were ultimately donated to food charities in the area.
The USDA revealed neither what poultry processing plants were used nor what charities were being donated to.
Some activist groups, including Goosewatchnyc, are concerned that the goose meat may be contaminated, saying that geese eat New York City park grass, which is regularly sprayed with pesticides.
Although the New York State Department of Health has done studies suggesting that there are no risks related to consuming goose meat, state fishing and waterfowl advisories recommend consuming no more than two geese per month according to goosewatchnyc.com.
Gooswatchnyc is an organization devoted to educating the public on the use of their tax dollars to remove wildlife from New York Public Parks, said founder and director David Karopkin.
“Geese are being scapegoated and killed for reasons that don’t measure up to common sense, let alone science,” said Karopkin. “The science the USDA uses to justify their actions are reports they themselves write.”
Karopkin has also said that some aviation specialists have begun to support his cause, contradicting reasons previously given by the USDA for the project.
Goosewatchnyc had its beginnings in the spring 2011 after the killing of about 300 geese from Prospect Park in 2010.
After a short two months, dozens of geese returned to fill the vacancy left in the habitat, and in order to avoid another massacre, Karopkin organized a group to watch over the park, which evolved into Goosewatchnyc.
John Young, local bird enthusiast, has been watching birds in Van Cortlandt Park for several decades and has also pointed out the seemingly futile nature of the USDA’s plan.
He responded to the removal of the geese, saying, “I was there this morning, (July 15th) a dozen were back. I can guarantee a thousand will be back by December.”
Last year, Van Cortlandt Park did not meet the level of danger specified by the USDA. However, geese were removed from the park in both 2010 and 2011.
Bannerman pointed to Riker’s island as an example of the tactics’ success. Since the department first started removing geese from the island in 2004, the number of geese to be removed has decreased steadily. Furthermore, there have only been two geese struck by aircraft at LaGuardia International Airport since removal began, according to Bannerman.
Bryant Shapiro, the New York State Director of the Humane Society of the United States, advocates non-lethal solutions to the problem including addling the eggs with oil, which would dissuade geese from settling there and using trained dogs to frighten the geese away. The Humane Society helps communities establish long-term solutions to this problem.
“Human safety is of the greatest importance,” said Shapiro, “that’s why we want solutions that work, are effective, and not just over-simplified reactions.”
Although he admits that the threat to aircraft is a real one, Karopkin also insists the USDA and New York City has the wrong solution. “The city is trying to show that they are doing something about the threat to airplanes. This does not mean killing geese is the solution.”
“You cannot kill your way out of this problem,” he added