Groups to protest geese euthanization plan

The Town of North Hempstead has entered into The Town of North Hempstead has entered into an agreement with the USDA to euthanize flocks of geese that are damaging town parks and other properties. (May 10, 2013) Photo Credit: Mark Bellew

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Animal rights groups said they will oppose at North Hempstead's town board meeting Tuesday night a controversial plan to remove Canada geese from parks by euthanizing them.

A torrent of criticism followed Newsday's report Sunday on a permanent way to cope with 600 geese that officials said eat grass in town parks and foul waterways and fields with droppings. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is surveying the situation, said its preferred method of euthanasia is carbon dioxide; in response, the town said Monday, it has received 20 calls and emails.

One animal advocacy group has mounted an online petition; another called the proposal "monstrous."

Edita Birnkrant, New York director of Friends of Animals, an international group, said the town should consider alternative measures, such as modifying the geese's landscape. Because geese prefer areas where they can watch for predators, the town could let grass grow taller and plant shrubs and trees to block their sight lines.

The town said it has tried, with little success, to scare off the geese, with noisemakers and specially trained dogs. Town spokesman Collin Nash said Monday in an email that "the Town is continuing to explore all options in regards to the public health and safety issue caused by the overpopulation of Canada geese."

The euthanasia solution, advocates contend, is shortsighted. "They're going to defy the laws of nature and say there's no geese allowed in North Hempstead airspace or they will be gassed to death," said Birnkrant, who plans to address the board Tuesday night.

David Karopkin, director and founder of GooseWatch NYC, a group that has challenged geese removals citywide, called the town's plan "egregiously cruel." The group has an online petition -- he said it has several hundred signatures -- and commenters have posted on the group's Facebook page.

"By killing the geese and creating a vacant desirable habitat, they're ensuring that more geese will fly in to be killed next summer and the summer after that," he said.

But Martin Lowney, New York State director of the USDA's Wildlife Services program, argued other solutions come with a price. "You build a park so people can play soccer," he said. "If you put in a forest, you'll get rid of the geese, but you can't play soccer. It's a choice."

Advocates look to Mamaroneck, in Westchester County. The village's mayor said a contract with the USDA was signed to cull the geese last December. But three trustees were newly elected to the board that fall, and after public hearings earlier this year the village amended the contract to exclude lethal eradication measures.

Mayor Norman Rosenblum called the change unfortunate, but added he was content with the deal: Eggs will be oiled and the village will buy a giant vacuum to clean up the droppings. But, he said, "within a day or two, it's covered again."

So he is hopeful North Hempstead won't buckle under pressure. "I encourage the supervisor and board to go ahead with it," he said.

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