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Joint effort needed to prevent geese-plane collisions

Joint effort needed to prevent geese-plane collisions

It’s completely understandable why officials with the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. D

Take a 1,000-pound weight and drop it 10 feet to the ground.

That’s the amount of force generated when a 12-pound goose hits a plane that’s flying at 150 mph.

Each year in the United States, pilots report more than 9,000 airline-bird strikes. But the true figures are likely much higher because many strikes go unreported. Each day, one plane in the U.S. is forced to land because of a bird strike.

If you’re on one of those planes or if you’re in a car or house or walking around where one of them crashes, this issue affects you.

So it’s completely understandable why officials with the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are so anxious to round up and euthanize the geese that hang out at Collins Lake in Scotia, located a mere three miles from the Schenectady County Airport. The threat to public safety is just too high.

But local residents who are concerned about the welfare of the geese have legitimate concerns, too. With some cooperation, both sides can get their way.

On the surface, it would seem that removing the geese from the area would be the most logical solution. Take away the geese and you take away any chances of them being sucked into a jet engine.

But the practice has its detractors, in large part because some studies have shown no appreciable reduction in collisions between Canada geese and planes ever since the USDA started its efforts to “cull” the local bird populations.

Residential geese, like those that make local parks their home, are the big problem. Residential geese cause 80 percent of mid-air collisions; the other 20 percent of such crashes are caused by migrating geese.

The problem with rounding them up and taking them away is that it’s not a permanent solution. It might work for a month or two, but other geese will eventually discover the area and move in, bringing you right back where you started — with many big birds living close to the airport.

According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, if birds find an area a comfortable place to live, they’ll flock there and won’t leave, possibly for decades.

So a form of community-based control should be employed to make the living experience for the birds unpleasant. For instance, since geese like short grass, the agency recommends keeping grass 14 inches or higher near water. It also suggests installing low wires that discourage birds from landing, using barking dogs to chase them away, employing repellents like explosive devices and non-lethal sprays to make the birds uncomfortable staying in one place for long, installing fencing between nesting areas and resting areas so they can’t go back and forth, rebuilding the shorelines so it’s difficult for them to build nests, and treating eggs by coating them with oil, puncturing them or shaking them so new birds don’t hatch. Also, don't allow people to feed them.

Rounding up birds and killing them works in the short-term, but it doesn’t really take care of the problem in the long run. And disrupting the birds' habitat takes a longer, sustained effort, but it doesn't solve the immediate problem of existing birds threatening planes.

The collection and removal of geese should be a last resort. But in weighing airline safety vs. the welfare of the geese, the community has to err on the side of people.

“People are not going to stop flying and we have to make a decision. It’s geese or human beings,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg after the crash of a US Airways jumbo jet in the Hudson River in 2009.

To ensure the safety of local airline passengers and potential victims on the ground while saving the geese, a multi-faceted joint effort between the federal government, local government and citizen animal rights advocates is the least expensive, most effective, and ultimately, the safest, approach to take.

*** An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly attributed Mayor Michael Bloomberg's quote to US Airways Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger.

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