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Agencies propose massive reduction of geese

NEW YORK — Officials have proposed reducing the number of Canada geese in New York state by two-thirds, eventually trimming the population to 85,000 from 250,000, according to a report prepared by several city, state and federal agencies.

The reduction is part of a larger plan that also calls for the near halving of the Canada geese population in 17 Atlantic states, to 650,000 from 1.1 million. The New York Times obtained a copy of the report Thursday.

In New York City, the report says, the current goose population of 20,000 to 25,000 is "five times the amount that most people would find socially acceptable," suggesting the number would be reduced to about 4,000.

An official of the U.S. Department of Agriculture who helped write the proposal called it a "one-of-a-kind plan."

"New York is leading the way," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Plans for other areas, he said, "do not include all the scientific background."

The document contained specifics of goose removal in the New York area: "The captured geese are placed alive in commercial turkey crates. The geese would be brought to a secure location and euthanized with methods approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Euthanized geese would be buried."

The plan emerged from five months of meetings that followed the crash-landingof US Airways Flight 1549in the Hudson River after geese flew into its engines and disabled them in January 2009. The plan was completed in summer 2009 but not made public.

Glenn Phillips, executive director of New York City Audubon, called the plan "a little extreme."

"It’s clear that some action needs to be taken," Phillips said. "It’s not clear that there are really five times as many Canada geese as there should be."

He mentioned a study written last year by the wildlife services division of the Agriculture Department that says goose killings near La Guardia Airport reduced bird hits by 80 percent.

The report also said killing geese that live farther from the airport might not limit situations like the US Airways one.

Maureen Wren, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which oversees management of Canada geese in the state, emphasized that the proposed reduction was a long-term goal. Statewide, she said, the goose population will also continue to be managed through hunting and treating fertilized eggs.

In years ahead, however, the state could ask the federal government to extend hunting seasons or increase the number of geese that hunters may shoot.

Susan Russell, a former vice president of Friends of Animals, who lives in New Jersey, was shocked when she learned Friday of the proposal to remove 170,000 Canada geese.

"There’s something about the Canada geese — they’re extremely loyal, they’re emotional, they’re garrulous and they’re funny, they’re brave," Russell said. "I observe this year after year."

Government officials who attended the meetings that led to the plan peppered wildlife specialists about other options, the Agriculture Department official said. The questioners included officials from the New York City Parks Department, the National Park Service and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s office, he said.

"They wanted to know facts; they wanted to know why we can’t harass them and make them go away," he said. "But when you do that, it’s just making problems for someone else. People with money push the geese onto people without the money. That’s usually what happens when you get rid of harassment problems."

In the meetings, the officials learned that there had been 78 Canada goose strikes over 10 years at local airports, and that those strikes caused more than $2.2 million in aircraft damage. And they were reminded that 24 people were killed in 1995 when an Air Force surveillance plane struck Canada geese in Alaska.

It is unknown how many geese have been killed so far under the plan.

The first steps outlined in the plan went into effect last summer, when 1,235 geese in the city were gassed to death. The total for this summer remains unknown, although nearly 400 were killed after being rounded up in Prospect Parkthis month.

"Prospect Park — that was a bad situation for the geese," the Agriculture Department official said. "They were being fed doughnuts and bread by people. That’s wrong.

"I know people had strong emotional bonds to the animals, and there’s no way for me to explain to most of them that the Canada geese don’t need the people" to feed them.

Next year, officials will count how many geese return to the parks to determine if the geese killings had an effect.

But the count has already begun, at least informally. People spotted 28 geese waddling along the lake shore in Prospect Park on Thursday.


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