Almost a year after hundreds of Canada geese were removed from Jamaica Bay, killed and given to food pantries, federal agencies are rounding them up again.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services staff, assisted by National Park Service employees, removed 231 resident Canada geese from Jamaica Bay, including from inside the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, on July 2, though National Park Service spokeswoman Daphne Yun said the number of birds culled was 262.
The geese were transported to poultry processing facilities and the resulting meat will be supplied to food charities in the area. About 100 additional geese were observed but not collected.
This is the second year the two agencies removed a large number of Canada geese from the bay. Last July, about 700 birds were removed.
According to a fact sheet from the NPS, up to 500 geese will be culled this summer at Jamaica Bay, but between 300 and 500 resident birds will not be killed.
Canada geese are culled in the summer because they molt their feathers this time of year, which prevents them from being able to fly, making it easier for them to be rounded up.
The USDA said the overabundant Canada geese population threatens both air travel into and out of nearby JFK Airport and the salt marsh habitat of Jamaica Bay. Several bird strikes have been recorded at JFK, though none were due to Canada geese. However, a couple of strikes at LaGuardia Airport — including the 2009 incident involving US Airways Flight 1549, which was forced to land in the Hudson River after birds took out both the plane’s engines — was due to the species.
“For aviation, Canada geese are among the most hazardous birds,” said USDA spokeswoman Carol Bannerman in an email. “Although goose-aircraft strikes aren’t common, more than half are with multiple geese and three-quarters have an effect on the flight or cause damage.”
Bannerman added that the birds are also harmful to the bay’s ecosystem. According to the National Park Service, the geese have damaged marshland.
At Big Egg Marsh, which Gateway has helped restore with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies, geese ripped out the roots of newly planted grasses, denuding newly planted areas and eroding salt marshes.
But Don Riepe, president of the American Littoral Society’s northeast chapter, said the main reason for culling the birds is air travel safety.
“Air travel is the primary reason for them to get rid of the geese,” he explained. “The effect on the marshland is a secondary concern.”
The birds live around Jamaica Bay all year round and differ from migratory Canada geese in that they only visit the bay in the spring and fall during their migration. The resident population was brought to the bay decades ago from the Midwest for hunters, but have adapted to the area. They often show up on front lawns of homes in the Rockaways and Howard Beach and can be seen along trails in the wildlife refuge.
The culling was conducted under a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, which manages geese under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The USDA has also targeted Canada geese populations near LaGuardia Airport.
At Rikers Island, Wildlife Service staff began egg treatment in 2001 and capture-removal in 2004. Each year, the number of eggs to be oiled and the number of resident Canada geese to be removed has decreased. In 2009, additional habitat management took place. There have been only two Canada-goose strikes at LaGardia — including the US Airways Flight 1549 incident — since September 2004.
“Studies are showing decreased strikes at airports with wildlife hazard management,” Bannerman said.
Some animal rights advocates have protested the slaughter, calling it unfair and inhumane, and Riepe said children around Jamaica Bay often feed the geese.
“They definitely have their constituents too,” Riepe said. “I’m glad people are concerned about wildlife and holding government agencies accountable, but we understand the danger posed to air travel.”