Outrage Builds Over Extermination of Hundreds of Geese from Major City Park in New York

News & Politics

It was a sickening shock that no one saw coming: In the dark, early morning hours of July 8, officials from the US Department of Agriculture, along with NYC Parks Department representatives, rounded up several hundred resident geese in Brooklyn's largest park, ziptied their feet and legs together and carted them off--to gas them with carbon dioxide. They were then double-bagged, and shipped off to a landfill. It's not entirely clear how many geese were killed altogether; estimates range from 250-400 in total. (Also notably missing are the several hundred mallard ducks that also populate Prospect Park's lake; at the moment, only a few dozen black ducks are seen now.)

The reason? Well, it all starts with America's favorite hero, Captain Sully. Since the Hudson landing in January 2009, rules around geese populations near airports have been shifting. Recently, it was decreed that no geese can exist within seven miles of New York's airports. The decree is fraught with numerous problems.

First, the geese that US Airways Flight 1549 struck were not resident geese -- they were migratory geese from other parts of the continent. It's well-known in Prospect Park that the geese there are resident; not only do they stay their year-round, but their flight muscles are relatively atrophied in comparison due to their sedentary lifestyle. They are simply unable to fly as high as the airplanes that make their way over the park. (It's a common joke amongst park regulars that some of the geese spent their winters in nearby Green-Wood Cemetery.)

Second, I'm told by local Park waterfowl aficionados Anne-Katrin Titze and Ed Bahlman that the measurement that was taken of the new seven-mile rule is wrong: officials measured from the border of the airport's property, and not the runways. Measuring from the runways, they say, would have spared the lives of the park geese.

Even if the park geese were a danger, no public opportunity to discuss or brainstorm a better solution (such as those offered by groups like GeesePeace), contributing to the outrage and feelings of powerlessness  Last year, Mayor Bloomberg supported the killing of local geese in a radio address, saying, "There is not a lot of cost involved in rounding up a couple thousand geese and letting them go to sleep with nice dreams." Protests outside City Hall and his home resulted; the Mayor is notably silent now.

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz is "distraught" over the killings, but so far has not taken further action against the federal officials and park representatives who sanctioned them. Park administrator Tupper Thomas (noted for her ushering in the era of public-private partnerships taking over Prospect Park) is reportedly not answering any questions, and is directing inquiries back to the USDA. Park officials are already on the public's hotseat with the ongoing garbage problems within the park.

For days after the geese disappeared, there were lies and confusion being spread about their whereabouts. The Audubon Society claimed the geese suddenly flew off to nearby Jamaica Bay, for example, though the geese had otherwise never left the park in large numbers. Finally, on Monday, the USDA admitted publicly what they'd done.

No one disputes that public safety is everyone's top priority. But these geese posed no threat, and were senselessly taken from the community. According to the Brooklyn Paper, the Humane Society of the US "called on federal officials to 'immediately halt' its killing program and focus on 'a plan that will truly protect public safety.' The group claims that evidence shows that airplanes typically encounter migrating birds, not resident populations like the hundreds that call Prospect Park home."

The park community mourns the senseless death of these animals that were so much a part of our Prospect experience. On a telephone pole near the lake, an anonymous poster has been taped to a telephone pole. It reads, "R.I.P. Geese. Call 311, voice your outrage." 

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