U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) has introduced legislation that would she says, reduce the number of bird strikes at New York airports by speeding up the removal and killing of Canada geese from the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
In a statement issued by her office on April 25, Gillibrand said the move was prompted by bird-plane collisions that forced emergency landings at Kennedy Airport in Queens on April 19 and at Westchester Airport on April 24.
She said her bill would eliminate red tape and bureaucratic turf wars between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which would remove a select number of birds from the area, and the National Park Service, which has authority over the wildlife refuge.
“We cannot sit back and wait for a catastrophe to occur before cutting though bureaucratic red tape between agencies,” Gillibrand said. “We cannot and should not wait another day to act while public safety is at risk.”
Gillibrand cited increases in bird strikes of 28 percent at LaGuardia Airport and 53 percent at JFK between 2009 and 2011.
Her bill would require the USDA to act within 90 days of a determination by the Federal Aviation Administration that Canada geese pose a threat to flight safety.
It also would require the USDA, along with the Department of the Interior and the FAA, to remove the geese by the end of the subsequent molting period.
Molting is when birds shed their feathers and grow new ones. The geese are unable to fly during this period.
The National Park Service has been reluctant to allow removal of the birds without a final judgement from the USDA on an environmental impact study for the bird mitigation program.
Gillibrand’s bill would require a ruling no later than June 1 and completion of a bird removal program by Aug. 1.
Some Queens-based environmental and aviation safety experts, however, believe the bill would prove redundant or unnecessary.
Ken Paskar of Friends of LaGuardia Airport is against killing the geese.
“The Port Authority has a team of experts on staff that works to mitigate the impact of wildlife on aviation,” Paskar said. “There’s got to be a more humane, safer way to prevent them from having an impact on airspace.”
Paskar also said geese may not be the biggest problem around Kennedy. “What does Sen. Gillibrand intend to do about turkey vultures, European starlings and gulls?” he asked.
Paskar has cited bird strikes as one of his primary reasons for opposing a garbage transfer station under construction in College point, less than 2,200 feet from the end of LaGuardia’s runway 13/31.
He said birds will come to the site to dine on both the garbage and the rats that will be attracted to it, a possibility the city denies exists.
Don Riepe of Broad Channel serves as the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge guardian, and is the director of the northeast chapter of the Littoral Society. He also has served on Kennedy Airport’s bird hazard task force for 25 years, and said numerous measures have been taken over the years to manage bird impact, ranging from wetland and habitat reduction to an active shooting program.
“We’ve greatly reduced the strike threat,” Riepe said, adding that JFK not only sits along a wildlife preserve, but is within the Atlantic Flyway, a path taken each year by millions of migratory birds.
He said the geese that caused the Miracle on the Hudson landing in January 2009 out of LaGuardia were not native to the environs around the airport.
“Those geese were struck at 2,800 feet,” he said. “They were coming down from Westchester County during a cold snap.”
He believes that ongoing programs have and will continue to reduce the chances of bird strikes.“But you are not going to reduce the threat to zero,” he said.