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Residents Protest Killing Geese to Keep Airline Flight Paths Clear

Approximately 30 geese and goslings were taken away from Inwood Hill Park on June 28, 2011.
Approximately 30 geese and goslings were taken away from Inwood Hill Park on June 28, 2011.
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INWOOD — Inwood resident Rosemarie Kliegman loves seeing the goslings that hatch in Inwood Hill Park each spring. 

"We’d watch the goslings grow as they followed their parents," she said. "It was beautiful."

So when city and federal officials came into the park last June and rounded up dozens of birds for a "culling" effort where the birds are eliminated to ensure they don't fly into airliners, she decided to take action. 

"I was appalled at what happened," said Kliegman, 62, a native of Upper Manhattan. "We all love our nature up here, probably more than country dwellers, because we’re in the city."

Kliegman is not alone.

After last year’s controversial cull, locals concerned with the plight of the geese began ramping up efforts to stop the practice this year.

Geese and goslings in Inwood Hill Park in May 2011.
Geese and goslings in Inwood Hill Park in May 2011.
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This includes a planned protest Thursday night outside the Midtown offices of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who recently introduced federal legislation that would allow culling in Queens.

"I vowed never to let that happen again," Kliegman said. 

The organized culling by the United States Department of Agriculture and city Department of Environmental Protection began in 2009 in order to prevent another incident like US Airways Flight 154.

The plane, piloted by Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, was forced to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River after it struck a flock of Canada geese and lost the use of both engines.

And just last week, a JetBlue flight reportedly made an emergency landing when two geese hit its windshield after taking off from Westchester County Airport.

Officials hope to keep planes safe by reducing the number of geese in an area directly near an airport or in the direct vicinity of a major flight pattern. 

While opposition to the plan is not limited to Upper Manhattan, it was bolstered when an Inwood woman spoke up about her experience witnessing the capture of a group of geese in Inwood Hill Park last June. 

Suzanne Soehner said she was horrified as the USDA and Department of Environmental Protection rounded up the birds and hauled them away. 

"This supposed to be a wildlife refuge," she said last year. "Why is it that the solution to every problem seems to be killing?"

The birds were ultimately slaughtered and taken to food banks and homeless shelters in Pennsylvania, according to the DEP. 

Residents across the five boroughs have raised concerns about the practice. 

In 2010, nearly 400 geese were killed in Prospect Park when the planned culling was expanded to include city-owned land within a seven-mile zone of John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International airports.

Gillibrand's proposed legislation would allow the USDA to immediately begin culling geese at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens, where they are currently protected under federal law. 

To protest the measure, the animal rights group Friends of Animals will demonstrate at 5:30 p.m. Thursday outside her office.

Other citywide protests are planned in the coming months, leading up to the time when the agencies plan to remove the birds — generally in June or July — when geese are molting and unable to fly. 

For David Karopin, 27, seeing the geese rounded up at Prospect Park in Brooklyn spurred him to form the group Goose Watch NYC, which is a collaborative effort of several groups throughout the city committed to documenting and protesting the culls. 

Karopin said that through a network of "geese watchers" who live near city parks, he and his group hope to stop the city and federal officials from carrying out the action. 

"We feel like there is this drum beat to exterminate all the geese and it is being done in public parks with taxpayer money," he said.  

Not everyone is opposed to the removal of geese in city parks.

Inwood resident Narciso Velazquez, 42, said he believes the birds are a nuisance and agrees that they pose a danger to airplanes. 

"These birds don’t migrate — they’re here year-round and are a real danger,” said Velazquez, adding he is not a fan of the birds in general.

"I’m glad to see someone’s doing something about it."

Despite Velazquez’s dislike of the geese, he added that he would be in favor of a more humane solution to removing the birds. 

"The baby geese are pretty cute," he said. "It’s sad to think of those being killed."