The new plan to control bird strikes near Kennedy Airport flies in the face of a multimillion dollar federal effort to restore nearby wetland habitats for migratory birds, critics say.
Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposal, Wildlife Services staffers at the Queens airport would be authorized to kill a half-dozen birds within a five-mile radius of JFK, according to the New York Daily News.
The program, proposed to combat the growing number of potentially deadly bird strikes, has drawn the ire of conservationists and animal rights groups, who say it’s uncertain how culling the population will effect other species in the sensitive area.
“Would someone say we were going to kill every bear in Yellowstone?” asked Ida Sanoff, chair of the conservation group consortium Natural Resources Protective Association.
The plan would enable Wildlife Services at JFK to enter the Gateway National Recreation Area and kill all Canada geese, mute swans, double-crested cormorants, blackbirds, crows, rock pigeons and European starlings.
Proponents of the culling point to Federal Aviation Administration statistics that show 257 bird strikes at JFK last year compared with only 127 in 2005.
The most recent bird strike forced an emergency landing in Westchester April 24th. Environmentalists and animal rights groups have repeatedly pointed out that these plans target resident birds and not migratory ones which are generally involved in area aviation accidents. (Image: NBC New York)
Environmentalists say while there’s a need for safety at the massive airport, they think the measures outlined need to be examined more carefully.
“I understand the need to manage some of these species, but I would like to see an equal amount of effort put into preservation,” said Don Riepe, director of the local chapter of American Littoral Society and a member of the airport’s bird taskforce.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has proposed legislation that would bypass the environmental impact review process for the plan and allow the USDA to kill all Canada geese within a 5-mile radius of the airport during their molting season this summer.
Gillibrand, the USDA and Gateway, which helped craft the plan, have all said such measures are needed to ensure safe airways.
“We can take steps necessary to protect millions of air passengers every day while preserving the natural beauty of this national park for future generations,” the senator said in a statement.
Public comments will be accepted until June 13.
CANADA GEESE: The largest of the native waterfowl in Jamaica Bay, Canada geese are considered one of the biggest threats to planes landing and embarking from nearby Kennedy Airport. They feed mostly on grass and can be seen grazing on lawns and golf courses. They are both large — male geese can weigh up to 10 pounds — and abundant.
MUTE SWANS: A nonnative species, mute swans were first introduced to the Northeast coast from Europe in the 1800s. They are beautiful but aggressive birds that can cause damage to local ecosystems. A male swan can weigh up to 25 pounds.
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS: This black fish-eating bird nests on islands in the New York harbor. The population of the native species has remained relatively small and stable in New York. They can grow to almost three feet tall.
BLACKBIRDS: The red-winged blackbird is one of the most common small birds that nest in marshes. A single blackbird would likely not do much damage to an airplane, though they tend to congregate in flocks during the winter. The tiny bird can weigh just a few ounces.
EUROPEAN STARLING: This bird was first introduced to America in Central Park in the 1800s. They are urban birds that are found in just about every city habitat and are most abundant in city parks. Most grow to between 7.5 and 9 inches tall and weigh between 2 and 3.5 ounces.
CROWS: These native New York birds can flock in large numbers. Their numbers are recovering after the population declined due to West Nile virus in the 1990s.
ROCK PIGEONS: The familiar pigeon, rock pigeons pose a risk to planes because they can form large flocks. They tend to congregate in places where they are fed by people.