Kirsten Gillibrand United States Senator for New York

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After Gillibrand Push, Feds Move Forward to Rid NYC Airports of Bird Strikes

With Molting Season For Canada Geese Underway, Feds Finally Act to Remove Dangerous Birds

July 9, 2012

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced that after her push to cut through bureaucratic tape and remove Canada geese that pose a public safety risk to air travelers, the feds are finally taking action today to remove more than 750 geese from the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and protect New York City airports from bird strikes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last week issued its final decision to adopt their final environmental impact study laying out a combination of lethal and non-lethal methods for reducing the risk of bird strikes at JFK Airport. The Interior Department moved forward today with the removal of these birds that pose a risk to public safety. The announcement comes after Gillibrand pushed the USDA to expedite this final decision, and in a phone conversation, she had urged Interior Secretary Salazar to quickly issue new permits for the removal of geese from the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge immediately upon this formal acceptance of the study. The feds are now taking action today to mitigate the Canada geese during the critical molting period when they are flightless. 

“We could not afford to sit back and wait for a catastrophe to occur before cutting through bureaucratic red tape between federal agencies,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We are finally taking action to help reduce bird strikes and save lives. I thank Secretary Salazar for his leadership in moving this process forward.”

Last month, Gillibrand also requested the expedited removal of 200 geese at two landfill areas along the Jamaica Bay shoreline, which the Interior Department had the existing authority to carry out and was able to complete two weeks ago. Gillibrand introduced federal legislation in May to reduce bird strikes that was adopted into the underlying 2012 Farm Bill which passed the Agriculture Committee.

Since the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ in 2009 where US Airways Captain Sully Sullenberger made a heroic water landing protecting the lives of all 155 passengers and crew onboard shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport due to a bird strike, the problem has not been fully addressed by federal authorities. In April 2012, a Los Angeles-bound Delta Airlines flight was forced into an emergency return to JFK Airport shortly after takeoff due to bird strike. According to news reports, LaGuardia and JFK airports saw increases in bird strikes of 28% and 53%, respectively, between 2009 and 2011. 

With the USDA’s environmental impact study, which examines effective, safe ways to reduce bird strikes, now finalized, the Interior Department worked expeditiously to issue U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service permits needed to remove an estimated 1,000 additional geese. The National Park Service, which manages the wildlife refuge, has cited the need for the completion of this study before allowing USDA workers to remove birds from the refuge area.

After the heroic landing of Capt. Sully Sullenberger, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Park Service vowed to address the public safety problem posed by Canada geese residing at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. More than three years later, the problem continued to pose safety risks to flights departing New York airports.

Full text of Senator Gillibrand’s June 2012 letter to Interior Secretary Salazar is below:

Dear Secretary Salazar,

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me regarding the continued threat to aircraft safety posed by Canada Geese residing at Gateway National Recreation Area in New York, and for your leadership and attention to this issue. 

As we discussed, I urge you to take action before the end of June to issue permits to remove 200 geese at the Pennsylvania Avenue and Fountain Avenue landfills.  Additionally, it is my understanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to issue a Record of Decision on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on Bird Strike Hazard Reduction at John F. Kennedy International Airport by July 1.  Once a Record of Decision is issued, I also urge you to immediately issue permits to begin the process of culling additional geese on the applicable National Park Service land before the end of the 2012 molting period. 

Recent bird strikes on aircraft taking off from New York’s major airports once again highlighted the urgency of this issue.  Since the “Miracle on the Hudson” landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on January 15, 2009, New Yorkers have been waiting for a comprehensive and long-term solution to the threat posed by Canada Geese residing near our airports.  While I am dismayed that it has taken more than three years to complete the necessary review and analysis of alternatives, I am encouraged by the willingness of your Department and the other cooperating agencies to complete the environmental review process and begin implementation of the proposed action, including the culling of Canada Geese, before the conclusion of the 2012 molting period for Canada Geese.

I understand that culling of Canada Geese is one component of a comprehensive solution to the bird strike problem, and I am committed to working with your department, and all of the federal agencies involved, on the implementation of a variety of management activities, including lethal and non-lethal activities, to ensure that the safety of the flying public is protected in a way that is consistent with the mission of Gateway National Recreation Area and protects the environment, character, and natural beauty of Jamaica Bay. 

Thank you for your consideration of this critical request, and I look forward to continuing to work with you on this and other issues of importance to New Yorkers.