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July 16, 2012

Canada Geese Slaughtered and Spared in New York City

City demonstrates both the best and the worst of Canada goose population management

  • Though parks often provide perfect goose habitat, geese aren't always welcome. John Hadidian/The HSUS

  • After Prospect Park's Canada geese were slaughtered in 2010, park-goers held a vigil—and implemented a humane program to ensure the killing wouldn't happen again. The HSUS

  • Prospect Park now uses nonlethal methods like trained dogs and egg addling to keep its goose population under control. John Hadidian/The HSUS

In a cruel and senseless move, federal agents rounded up more than 750 Canada geese from New York City’s Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on July 9 and shipped them upstate, where the birds were gassed to death. The birds were molting and could not fly away.

This mass slaughter, conducted by USDA Wildlife Services and paid for by New York City, was completely avoidable. Humane methods of handling problems between humans and Canada geese are successfully used throughout the country—and are even being used right in other parts of New York City.

Parks model a better approach

In both Prospect Park and Central Park, not far from the waterfront where the 750 geese were captured for slaughter, city workers and citizen volunteers have spent the last two years using humane methods to move so-called “nuisance geese” along—without killing the birds. The Humane Society of the United States helped train Prospect Park staff in these techniques, and has been offering to help employ humane methods citywide since 2009.

Tell Mayor Bloomberg there is a better way »

"This slaughter of the geese from Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is inhumane and ineffective. It is also not supported by science," said Patrick Kwan, New York state director for The HSUS. "It is especially disappointing when there are more humane and effective solutions that exist which have already been implemented in Prospect Park and Central Park."

Protest planned

New Yorkers outraged by the goose slaughter are planning to take to the streets to protest this week.

City officials say the birds had to be killed because the geese have the potential to interfere with airline flights in and out of the city. DNA tests on feathers in one famous incident (in which a plane in trouble was downed in the Hudson River) showed the birds in that case were migrating geese—not the resident population.

This is a crucial distinction, as each bird population has distinct flight patterns, coverage, and behavioral differences that need to be considered—not the least of which is that migratory geese require more elaborate techniques to monitor and control.

"Studies have shown that the answer to improving airport safety lies not in repeated removal of wildlife," Kwan said. "If you want to protect air safety, there are more effective ways to do so, including tracking migratory bird patterns and using the latest radar technology."

"The slaughter is a knee-jerk reaction to an issue that demands a more scientific and comprehensive approach. When you indiscriminately kill the birds, you just open up the habitat for other birds to come in and fill that niche."

"Real, proven alternatives"

In Prospect Park, The HSUS's Lynsey White Dasher and Maggie Brasted trained workers and volunteers in early 2011. The year before, the city angered park-goers by killing 400 geese. "People who used the park were very upset,” said White Dasher. "They were attached to these geese, because they saw them every day."

The humane approach limits goose reproduction and encourages the geese to move to better-suited areas. In Prospect Park, the city employed the services of trained dogs, brought in periodically to bother the birds and send the message that the area is not an ideal home.

Park workers curb flock growth by addling eggs. As soon as the geese lay eggs, park workers cover the eggs with vegetable oil so they won’t hatch. "If their eggs don’t hatch, geese can more easily be encouraged to move elsewhere, since they don’t have dependent goslings," White Dasher explained.

As a result, there are far fewer geese in the park, and the city hasn't had a roundup and slaughter there in the past two years.

"Many, many communities across the United States have successfully used humane techniques to handle conflicts with Canada geese, just like Prospect Park is doing," said Brasted. "Some, like Prospect, have only been at it a couple of years and others have been successful with humane management for more than a decade. We know these methods work. There are real, proven alternatives to this mass slaughter in New York City."

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