Friday, August 12, 2011

Update - "How are the geese?"

The Official USDA 2011 New York City Goose Removal Report will soon be released, and it can be expected that 700-800 geese were rounded up in NYC this summer.

While we wait this critical information, I want to provide an update on where we stand now that the NYC round ups, at least unofficially, seem to be behind us.

In Brooklyn, we started out simply as a quiet group making the effort to stake out Prospect Park. 368 geese were rounded up on July 8, 2010 and if the round ups were to occur again in 2011 we wanted to be present (not asleep in our beds) were another massacre to take place. Our plan was to document the event for the world to witness. Word got out about our efforts, and many people joined us - we had 100 people on speed dial waiting for our alert to come to the park to join in protest. We were covered favorably by many press outlets, who requested to be added to the speed dial list. And in the end, the Prospect Park geese were spared from gassing or slaughter.

Many believe GooseWatch was the deciding factor in why the USDA decided to skip over Prospect Park. After all, they admittedly do not want lots of people "looking around and gathering". On the other hand, Prospect Park had hired a border collie company to scare the geese away so as to reduce their numbers prior to the DEC headcount. We may never know decisively whether or not GooseWatch was the determining factor. Yet, undoubtedly Prospect Park was spared because of the powerful and passionate community that spoke up and made ourselves known all year long - from the initial days and weeks following the round up when a vigil was organized, to Hands Around the Lake, and finally, including the citywide effort which GooseWatch became.

The Facebook page For the Love of the Geese in Prospect Park has helped keep everyone in touch, even in far away places like Washington State, Wisconson and Virginia, where USDA goose round ups are also taking place. The battle that reached our shores in Brooklyn, NY, was in fact, the tip of the iceberg, goose round ups are happening across the country. However, we can be a powerful force pushing back. Our goal is that the efforts begun in a small community in Brooklyn will spread across New York City and ultimately, the country.

Yet, as mentioned, all evidence so far points to approximately 800 geese rounded up and killed from NYC this summer, brutally, and with no legitimate justification. Suzanne Soehner witnessed the USDA on the scene in Inwood Hill Park. Residents in Staten Island mourn the roundup and deaths of more than 200 beloved geese from their park. Despite our efforts, not a single photograph exists to document the 2011 NYC Canada goose round ups.

With the help of Friends of Animals, we brought our message to Mayor Bloomberg. We showed our unity and strength, but much work lies ahead if we are going to put an end to the policy and contract that promotes this needless death.

So, if like me anyone has been asked the question, "How are the geese?", perhaps you also have a decidedly mixed response. Many thanks to everyone for their support and participation in GooseWatch 2011. It seems our battle may just be beginning, but you can be sure our numbers will grow. In the meantime, I urge you to visit Canada Geese near you as much as possible, keep an eye on their numbers and health, and let your neighbors and elected representatives know that you care about them and are against the round ups. (In case you have not yet signed, here are our groups' petitions:,

Stay tuned for another update once we are blessed with the official death count from the USDA report.


Here is a synopsis of GooseWatch and the past and current struggle for the Canada Geese in NYC, as articulated by Patty Adjamine:

Where We've Been (Or, Background)
On July 8, 2010, the people of the Prospect Park area woke up to find the lake in their public park almost entirely devoid of waterfowl.

When questioned, "What happened to all the geese?" park officials initially claimed the birds "flew to Jamaica Wildlife Refuge." But, park goers in the know realized that molting geese and their babies could not fly. They immediately notified the NY Times and following investigation, the NY Times broke the story which later went national:

In the wee hours of that July morning, 368 geese and their baby goslings were rounded up by the USDA, trucked to Kennedy Airport and gassed. Entire families wiped out with deadly fumes as most New Yorkers quietly went to work on a Thursday morning with no inkling of what was secretly happening behind closed doors.

Clandestine goose roundups and killings have been occurring around NYC for the past 8 years. But, they accelerated greatly following the "Miracle on the Hudson" landing of flight 1549 on Jan 15, 2009 after colliding with two migratory geese from Labrador, Canada.

Although a few media outlets, including CNN reported that the US Airways Airbus had sustained "engine stall" on a previous flight and almost had to emergency land, this part of the story was ignored by most of the major media. Passengers report scare on earlier US Airways Flight 1549 - CNN

Usually, when planes hit birds, they simply return to the airport. That this one landed in a river should have raised questions and investigation by the press. But, that did not occur. It was apparently more convenient to blame geese than obvious mechanical deficiencies.

The flight 1549 incident thus served as the perfect excuse to launch an all out "war" on resident Canada geese in New York City's parks, despite the fact the misfortunate geese the airliner collided with were migrating birds from another region altogether. In 2009, more than 1,200 geese from NYC parks were rounded up and gassed by the USDA. In 2010, that number escalated to more than 1,600.

In most cases, community members are not aware of the goose slaughters -- or, if they dare to question the sudden disappearance of the birds, are usually told the geese "just flew away." But, the people of Brooklyn's Prospect Park were not satisfied with brush offs and obfuscation. Instead, they organized through a Facebook page.

For the love of the geese in Prospect Park (92)

In the week after the Prospect Park goose gassings, a vigil was held for the geese organized by Mary Beth Purdy Artz and Chio Flores. More than 100 people attended the solemn event and it was covered by several members of the press, including NBC and the NY Times. Two more rallies would be held for the geese in ensuing weeks, organized by Friends of Animals and In Defense of Animals.

But, ultimately, it requires far more than rallies alone or even the formation of a Facebook page to stop a carnage that has been in motion for almost a decade. It requires focus, commitment, tenacity and the courage to forge ahead even in the face of great odds.

Our first task was to know our issue before pressuring officials, politicians and agencies. That meant gathering information and facts, not just from New York, but all over the country. The Facebook page became a site to post and share hundreds of articles, documents and other information. A core group of activists remained committed to bringing about change and doing what was necessary to insure that another goose culling would not occur this year at Prospect Park

In response to the criticism and pressure, earlier this year, Prospect Park formed a special Wildlife Committee to address and implement non-lethal management of the geese. But, even the formation of a program to "harass" geese and oil eggs was not enough to guarantee that a repeat culling of the geese would not occur this year.

In March of this year, another event was held at Prospect Park. "Hands Around the Lake" was organized to honor the geese at Prospect Park and to plead for their right to live. The event attracted more than 100 participants, including politicians and animal protection organization spokespersons. But, even that was not enough to insure that the Prospect Park geese would be spared from another USDA roundup.

Thus, in May of this year, "Goosewatch" was formed, organized by David Karopkin. The goal of Goosewatch was to insure that IF another USDA roundup occurred, it would not go unnoticed and unrecorded. Volunteers signed on and agreed to monitor the park in the wee hours of the morning. In the event USDA showed up again, they would be photographed and videotaped. The residents of the Prospect Park community would not be "sleeping through another USDA roundup and killing." The organization of Goosewatch was reported on by several media outlets, including mention in the NY Times and on NBC.

It is perhaps not surprising under the circumstances, that when USDA prepared its goose "hit list" for this year, Prospect Park was not on it. USDA claims that the "low" number of geese at Prospect Park this year did not merit a cull. However, (as of this point) we know that USDA did hit at least one other park with fewer geese than Prospect Park. (Inwood Park.)

We have to thus conclude that due to the combined efforts of the dedicated activists of the Prospect Park (and other) areas, a small, but very significant victory was achieved in saving the approximately 30 geese at Prospect Park this year.

But, our goal is to similarly save the geese in the other five boroughs of New York City. This was but the first step in a journey of a thousand miles.....
Where We Are (The Present) and Where We Need to Go (The Immediate Future)

Currently, we are trying to determine exactly what happened to the 800 or so geese rounded up this year from the NYC Metropolitan Area (including Long Island) and sent to a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania slaughterhouse.

In the spring of this year, the DEP and USDA announced that NYC geese would be "processed" in Pennsylvania and sent to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. But, we are having difficulty confirming what appeared to be a public relations ploy on the part of governmental agencies in response to criticisms last year of NYC geese ultimately being dumped in landfills. Goose meat donated to the food bank apparently doesn't carry a label of source or origin. Moreover, the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank claims the meat is toxicity tested by the USDA. But, the USDA claims it is the state that has the responsibility for testing the slain geese for possible toxins. If and when we are able to determine what slaughtering plant the geese were actually sent to and who specifically "tested" them (and for what) it is anticipated that we will know the final disposition of the geese. But, for the moment, this is still very murky and unclear. It is an investigation in progress.

The importance of learning what really happened to NYC geese rounded up and killed this year cannot be understated. This is critical not only insofar as animal cruelty issues, but also possible food contamination issues. Wild geese travel to many different locations, are exposed to various toxins, including mercury and lead and eat grass that in public parks, is routinely sprayed with pesticides. Many chemical residues and possible PCB's can remain in the tissues of wild geese who do not come from a controlled environment. Is such "meat" thus safe to feed to people without proper, full and individual testing?

According to reliable sources, proper testing of geese for possible contaminants can cost up to $100.00 per bird. That would seem to rule resident park geese out as a "cost effective" food source for people. Moreover, according to bird experts, molting geese are usually "feverish" and somewhat "sickly" when they are going through the process of losing feathers and being flightless (the time, in early summer when most USDA goose roundups occur). Hunters who shoot geese and claim to "eat" them do not kill geese in the summer when the birds are going through the molt. Rounded up geese have been rejected in many states across the country as possible food "donations" for poor people. Recently, these include Washington state, Virginia and Alabama. So, why are molting geese rounded up from NYC parks "safe" to feed to people in another state?

Perhaps they are only "safe" if proper testing procedures are being short circuited? That seems to have occurred recently with ground turkey meat. Less than two weeks ago, 36 million pounds of ground turkey had to be recalled due to suspected salmonella contamination. One person died from salmonella and dozens became sick around the country.

Nevertheless, we don't know the answers to these questions pertaining to the ground "goose meat" yet. But, as noted they are a priority for us to investigate and get to the bottom of. That is because next year, plans are in the works to slaughter the geese in NYC and "donate" them to food banks here.

Another priority for us to work on over the next 12 months, is obtaining and keeping accurate counts of geese throughout the NYC metropolitan area. The USDA claim of "20,000 - 25,000 geese" in the NYC metro area has been the same for the past 4 years despite "culls" of thousands of geese in that period. We therefore have to question and consider that number to be highly inflated and suspect. Either the culls are having NO effect on the current Canada goose population. Or, the quoted number is incorrect and moreover is being used to justify further goose slaughters. It is critical for us to recruit and establish reliable people from all over the city and Long Island to report to us and keep ongoing tabs on goose numbers. This is especially important in all those areas that have previously been targeted for goose roundups and culls. If we cannot find reliable people to accurately report and keep records of goose numbers, then we have to organize people willing to drive to areas of prior goose culls and keep track of current and prevailing numbers.

We have to be prepared early next year to challenge the USDA on its repeated goose numbers quotes. Should the USDA numbers be accurate (and we sincerely doubt they are) then that seems to point to evidence that the goose killings are totally ineffective in "reducing" goose population. We can then point to places like Central Park, that for years, has been utilizing non-lethal methods like habitat modification and Border Collie chasing to successfully manage and keep goose populations in check.

On the other hand, if the USDA goose numbers are inaccurate and goose numbers are much lower than what is being quoted, then that would eliminate the "need" for further cullings. (We suspect this to actually be the case, but at this point, cannot prove.) The need to gather and determine accurate goose numbers across the city, (like the unsuitability of slain park geese as "meat for the poor") cannot be understated.

These two priorities alone are enough to keep us very busy and focused over the next twelve months. However, that is not to negate the importance of constant pressure on our legislative representatives and political leaders for changes in our "Wildlife Management Services" particularly as they pertain to Canada goose roundups in our city.

We need to pressure our Congressional representatives to cut funding for the "Wildlife Services" department of the USDA. USDA does not work for free. Most of the funding for the goose slaughters in New York City comes from Congressional "appropriations" -- or, in other words, our tax dollars at a time the government is in default for reckless spending and mounting dept in the trillions of dollars.

It is time to say, "enough is enough." No more tax money for reckless and insidiously cruel, unnecessary goose slaughters in New York City and elsewhere.


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