Wholesale Slaughter of Wildlife Near Airports: is there a better way?

A news article in the Star-Ledger details the ineffectiveness of wildlife control measures at the Newark and other New Jersey airports managed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ). Specifically, after the USAir bird-strike crash in the Hudson in 2009, roughly 6,000 birds have been killed, yet the data shows no improvement in the number of birdstrikes.

In at least one regard, the increased effort to kill wildlife should not be expected to reduce incidents like USAir 1549. Why not? Because Captain Sullenberger’s successful ditching onto shallow river waters had nothing to do with on-airport wildlife. This accident was caused when Sully’s Airbus collided with a flock of geese far from the airport. The NTSB report stated: “…According to FDR data, the bird encounter occurred when the airplane was at an altitude of 2,818 feet above ground level (agl) and a distance of about 4.5 miles north-northwest of the approach end of runway 22 at LGA (the departure point).”

Just as interesting as the article are the comments. It appears that, after the USAir 1549 accident, the primary reaction by FAA and airport authorities was to go high-profile on bird control. Funds were directed toward more wildlife staff on board, and toward the increased use of USDA Wildlife Services personnel at airports. A footnote within a USDA-APHIS-WS annual report on managing wildlife hazards at airports reads: “WS biologists estimated that technical or direct management assistance resulted in a reduction, suppression, or prevention of hazards from target wildlife at 409 airports in 2002, 441 airports in 2003, 479 airports in 2004, 483 in 2005, 518 in 2006, 548 in 2007, 582 in 2008, 602 in 2009, 568 in 2010, 546 in 2011, and 568 in 2012.” It is far too common for agencies with fading missions or funding difficulties to ‘collaborate’ with other agencies, and create work. In this case, likely, FAA directed more aviation revenues to stir up more work for USDA-APHIS-WS, whose jobs have become increasingly ‘endangered’ by funding reductions.

Is there a better way?

Within the Star-Ledger article comments, it is noted that there are much better solutions available, and these are actually successfully used elsewhere. For example, the use of border collies: birds hate predators, so a dog and trainer can make the airport area ‘hostile’ for birds, and they will tend to stay away. A study [PDF]  discusses successful border collie uses in Florida [KRSW] and in Delaware [KDOV].

Another control method, being successfully utilized in the Okanagan valley of southern British Columbia, is egg addling — goose populations are being controlled by simply tracking and invading goose nests during key periods of the year. A page at okanagangooseplan.com notes: “…egg addling involves shaking eggs or coating them with non-toxic biodegradable food-grade corn oil within 14 days of incubation to make them non-viable … the U.S. Humane Society supports this egg addling technique.” Seems like a sad waste of a goose, but a slightly more palatable way to target our commercial instinct for slaughtering wildlife.