Canada geese are beautiful, intelligent birds who mate for life, fiercely protect their eggs and young, and display loyalty for other members of their flock. Since the infamous “Miracle on the Hudson” crash when a jet airliner collided with two migrating geese from Labrador, Canada, New York City government officials have been on a crusade against Canada geese residing in New York City parks. Before 2009 the city had already been working with USDA Wildlife Services to round up and gas hundreds of geese near La Guardia Airport, but Mayor Bloomberg decided it wasn’t enough just to kill birds near the airport, geese in parks across the city became a target. During the past three summers over 3,200 Canada geese living in public parks have become the victim of this cruel and misguided policy, this year a new group – GooseWatch NYC – intends to bring these slaughters to public consciousness with the hopes to end the killing.
The USDA works secretly and swiftly, so even though geese were being taken out of public parks across the city, the killings went mostly unnoticed. But on July 8, 2010, the residents of the Prospect Park area in Brooklyn, NY awoke to find the otherwise boisterous lake in their park empty. In the early hours of that morning, 368 geese and their baby goslings were abducted by the USDA, trucked to John F. Kennedy Airport and gassed to death, double-bagged and dumped in a landfill. The USDA uses canoes and netting to corral the flightless geese and their young, they are separated into small pens, plastic zip-ties are used to bind their feet together. Gas chambers were used by USDA to kill the geese, carbon dioxide asphyxiation is an especially cruel process that slowly strangles geese as they struggle to breathe and compete for oxygen. Some voiced complaints that by disposing the geese in landfills after they were killed, their meat had been wasted, so last summer, under the premise of “charity” the USDA trucked the geese (during the hottest months of the year) from NYC to a commercial poultry processor in Pennsylvania where they were donated to local food banks.
Prospect Park’s geese were violently wiped out with deadly fumes as New Yorkers went to work on a ordinary Thursday morning, with no inkling of what was secretly happening right under their noses in “Brooklyn’s Backyard.” In most areas around NYC, citizens were not aware of the goose slaughters taking place in their communities. But, the Prospect Park community organized through a Facebook page. In the week after the Prospect Park goose slaughters, a vigil was held for the geese which was attended by local politicians and several prominent animal advocates. In response to the criticism and pressure, Prospect Park trained its staff to conduct “egg addling,” an involved process which prevents laid eggs from developing and hired a company that uses a trained border collie to harass the geese away. 35 Canada geese remained in the park at the time that the summer molt began, however, even Prospect Park’s management program was not enough to guarantee that a repeat culling of the geese would not occur in 2011.
Thus, “Goosewatch” was formed, David Karopkin, who lives in the shadow of Prospect Park, decided that if another USDA roundup occurred there it would not go unnoticed and unrecorded. In the event USDA showed up again, they would be photographed and videotaped. Word got out about his idea and many people joined the efforts, over 100 neighbors of the Prospect Park community offered their phone numbers for an emergency speed dial list, waiting for an alert to rush to the park to join in protest, and volunteers signed on to stand guard at the park all summer long. Armed with a cell phone and camera, GooseWatch members alternated nights and mornings waiting at the park. In the end, the USDA decided not to return to Prospect Park, claiming that the low number of geese there did not merit a cull. However, it’s known that the USDA wiped out geese at other parks with fewer than Prospect Park’s 35 geese. Many believe GooseWatch was the deciding factor in why the USDA decided to skip over Prospect Park.
This year GooseWatch is extending its mission to 15 parks across NYC. Prospect Park’s geese were spared last summer because of the powerful and passionate community that spoke up all year long. A small, but very significant victory was achieved in saving 35 geese at Prospect Park in 2011 that GooseWatch NYC is hoping to repeat this summer.
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