June 8, 2012 – 12:22 a.m.

Air Safety Provision Doesn’t Fly With Canada Geese Defenders

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wants to make the skies over New York City safer for air travelers and is turning to the Agriculture Department for help.

In an effort to reduce the risk of aircraft and birds colliding in flight, the New York Democrat wrote a provision into the Senate’s farm bill (S 3240) that would direct the Agriculture Secretary to remove Canada geese from a federal wildlife preserve near John F. Kennedy International Airport.

“I think it’s important to protect the health and safety of families who use aircraft and are flying,” Gillibrand said. “We’ve had a number of bird strikes in New York and so the risk to human safety is very high, and so it’s really incumbent upon me to make sure we can protect the flying public from unnecessary risks to their lives.”

The threat posed by large birds near airports gained national attention in 2009, when U.S. Airways Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III made an emergency landing in the Hudson River that resulted in no fatalities. A bird strike had crippled the plane shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport.

Working with local authorities, the Agriculture Department has taken action to remove geese from property owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the area’s airports. The geese were donated to area food banks.

However, local environmentalists have questioned both the efficacy of killing the geese in trying to reduce bird strikes by aircraft and the wisdom of extending those efforts to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve, which is across the bay from Kennedy airport. The Agriculture Department has been reluctant to remove geese from the preserve.

Environmental and animal rights groups have long opposed the New York goose kills. Last year, they protested New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to authorize the Agriculture Department to remove the birds from Prospect Park in Brooklyn and other locations throughout the city.

A group called GooseWatch NYC has posted an online petition opposing a stand-alone version (S 2377) of Gillibrand’s farm bill provision.

“If air travel is to be made safer, non- lethal techniques and technologies must be implemented in New York City; they have been employed successfully in other U.S. cities that should serve as data-driven models,” the group writes. “New York officials are far too eager to opt for a mass slaughter, which is based on junk science and considered by many to be an act of last resort.”

The aviation industry, however, supports the Gillibrand proposal and other actions to reduce bird strikes. “[Airlines for America] and our member airlines have long supported the efforts by the USDA Wildlife Services organization to further enhance safety at JFK and other airports, and we appreciate Sen. Gillibrand’s amendment to further this work,” said a spokeswoman for the trade group formerly known as the Air Transport Association of America.

The provision in the farm bill applies specifically to Kennedy airport but also would require similar action in other cases where the Federal Aviation Administration concludes that Canada geese on National Park Service land within five miles of an airport pose a risk to passenger safety. The language was adopted as part of a substitute amendment during the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee’s consideration of the bill in April.

The Senate voted Thursday to limit debate on a motion to take up the farm bill. The measure could be on the floor for several weeks.