Defending New York City's Geese

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Defending New York City's Geese

By Lee Hall, Friends of Animals (FOA)
September 2011

We’re giving this government a run for its money. Or our money — for it’s the taxpayer who funds the slaughter of the Canada geese who inhabit New York’s parks and waters. Throughout the summer of 2011, Friends of Animals members and collaborators – including furious Brooklyn residents unable to stop the roundups on their own – joined to confront the war against these birds, to push back.

Moreover, killing means animals repopulate to fill the vacuum — thus beginning a cycle of violence. Why pay the federal government for this nasty business? New York should be protecting the geese in our parks.

We’re giving this government a run for its money. Or our money — for it’s the taxpayer who funds the slaughter of the Canada geese who inhabit New York’s parks and waters. Throughout the summer of 2011, Friends of Animals members and collaborators – including furious Brooklyn residents unable to stop the roundups on their own – joined to confront the war against these birds, to push back. We promised to be the noise-making Unwelcome Committee to greet the agents who thought they could come into the park with no one knowing. And we stopped the violence in Prospect Park.

This was the first organized effort by New York City residents to monitor the conduct of the U.S. agriculture department’s wildlife services – the agency that secretly exterminated hundreds of geese in the park last July, and went on to wipe out most of them in New York City and western Nassau County. This year’s gassing proposal targeted hundreds of birds. But a fter six goslings hatched in the park in May — the first born since last year’s massacre, these babies were a triumph for a community of birds whose nests were invaded and addled by biologists — we convened to turn the tables on this operation. We came into the parks when the agents did: in the dark of night.

This year, goose-slaughter proponents included a public-relations spin, telling the press that dead geese would be donated to Pennsylvania food banks. Johanna Clearfield of Brooklyn, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, responds :

Wild birds in the New York City area, especially Canada geese, who graze on pesticide-laden grass and drink mercury tainted water, have high levels of chemicals in their systems, which explains why many food banks have rejected the USDA’s donations. Analysis of just one carcass takes somewhere between $50 and $100, which would make the cost of examining hundreds of birds prohibitive.

Johanna adds, “ As a wildlife rehabilitator licensed by the Department of Environmental Conservation, I work to rescue wildlife, while the USDA, another government agency, is killing the very birds I’m trying to save.”

Out of Loss and Heartbreak, Activism Takes Hold

On a July day of 2010, the Brooklyn community woke up to find every goose gone at Prospect Park Lake. The poor birds (a community of more than 300) were gassed to death. Brooklyn resident and paralegal David Karopkin, our co-founder and collaborator in the project, describes the feeling of loss:

I was appalled and heartbroken. I took for granted that the geese would always be there. I grew up and still live in the park’s shadow in the Ditmas Park area of Brooklyn . As a kid I spent a lot of time at the park, and I have thousands of memories…I still spend a lot time in the park, but for a year now the stain of the goose massacre is often what I think of when I visit.

After deciding to turn anguish into action, David teamed up with Friends of Animals. Goose Watch was launched. We received help from many Brooklynites willing to patrol the lake with binoculars, night-vision goggles, cameras and whistles from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. through the summer weeks when the geese were molting and flightless, unable to escape their tormentors.

A network of volunteers took rotating days of the month, pairing off to monitor the park for federal vehicles, and alert other members of group, who prepared to storm the park in protest. We never divulged all the details of the undertaking. We risked arrest, for the park closes after 1 a.m. The media took note.

As stated by Natalie O’Neill in The Brooklyn Paper:

Volunteers and kids are organizing a full-time patrol inside Prospect Park to protect Canada geese from being slaughtered again, including the cute new baby goslings. The group — which consists of about 40 wildlife advocates, business leaders and residents — says it will plant night-vision cameras and set up “stakeouts” in the park until the killing season ends…

Goose Watch was also featured on NBC television, and in various other newspaper and Internet articles. MobileMatters (www.mobilematters.org), a company dedicated to helping non-profits through the use of mobile technology, offered a mass texting alert service to Goose Watch, so 100-plus volunteers could be called to show up in Prospect Park if goose-killing agents arrived.

“There is no other device, or channel, that allows for such real-time engagement and dissemination of information,” said Andrew DellaPietra, a public health advocate and the founder of MobileMatters, on how mobile technology (text messaging, “QR” or 2D barcodes, the mobile web and its “apps”) can support animal advocacy.

“General information, alerts, rescue updates, pictures, videos, volunteer opportunities, urgent calls-to-action – all can be communicated in an instant.”

When a community defends animals and each other, good things happen. New York Times weblog reporter Andy Newman broke the news on June 23 rd. Reading the article, “Hundreds of Geese to Be Killed in Coming Weeks, City Says,” we knew the Prospect Park geese would not be rounded up and killed by the USDA this year. They were steering clear of our local park.

As we go to print, all 34 geese are safe and living in peace in Prospect Park. Thanks and gratitude goes out to all those who’ve spent sleepless nights on guard to protect the lives of the geese. Now, we invite other New York City and surrounding communities to join this uprising.

What’s the Trouble, Anyway?

Why are Canada geese — emotionally intelligent birds who mate for life, fiercely protect their eggs and young, and display loyalty for other members of their flock — so ruthlessly targeted in New York City? Can’t a city of more than 8 million people live with a few hundred birds?

Mayor Bloomberg claims the geese of city parks threaten air safety. This is false. Smithsonian scientists proved migratory geese involved in an oft-cited Hudson River plane crash of 2009 were unrelated to the resident geese of New York City parks.

Two years ago, Friends of Animals gave Mayor Bloomberg’s staff our Canada Goose Habitat Modification Manual, which explains how to deter geese from congregating in areas that they are perceived as problematic. But normally, there are no serious problems or safety issues. The inconvenience of goose droppings might be the main issue in Brooklyn; and New York City could save money and goodwill by clean off droppings instead of geese.

Moreover, killing means animals repopulate to fill the vacuum — thus beginning a cycle of violence. Why pay the federal government for this nasty business? New York should be protecting the geese in our parks.

The staff and supporters of Friends of Animals strongly oppose all policies advocating birth control of geese or addling of goose eggs — destroying eggs by shaking, piercing or coating the eggs with oil, often scaring them away from their nests by using hazing dogs — considering these approaches traumatic and invasive.

As we go to print, New York City’s contract, which expires 15 July 2011, can be renewed for 2012. What can you do? JoinGoose Watch! Call us at 203-656-1522 or send an e-mail to: edita@friendsofanimals.org

Everyone – New York City residents, tourists, potential tourists – can demand that New York City’s geese will live in peace. Urge Mayor Bloomberg not to renew or sign any future killing contracts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture or any entity targeting Canada geese or any other free-living animals. Contact:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007
Phone: 212-788-3000 Fax: 212-312-0700

Quotes appearing in this article were derived from Natalie O’Neill’s article “ On Patrol! Group Starts a 24/7 ‘Goosewatch’ in Prospect Park” – The Brooklyn Paper (19 May 2011); and Andy Newman’s article “ Hundreds of Geese to Be Killed in Coming Weeks, City Says” - posted in the “City Room” weblog of the New York Times (23 June 2011). Spe cial thanks to David Karopkin, Julian Deych, Rina Deych, Greg Straight Edge, Tia Foster, Hunter Reyes, Joni Latibeaudiere, Carol Lipton, and Suzanne Soehner.