Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Paradise Lost

The goose roundups for New York City are now completed.  Central Park was never on the hit list.
And, according to this article, the intended roundup of a few dozen geese at Canterbury Lake in Virginia has been put off for this year:
But, while these small bits of information represent some temporary relief for some geese, the news on the whole is not positive.
If one reads carefully, the article above, 1,600 geese were already rounded up and killed in Virginia (That, in addition to the 16,000 hunted last year).  And the USDA is not above using techniques such as "drugging geese" and using nets to still capture geese in areas where people are "complaining" -- even though the geese can now fly.
Nor, was it all "good news" yesterday in a conversation had with Lee Humberg of the NYC division of the USDA who, in fact, informed me that the goose roundups were now "completed" in New York City.
Unlike the conversation with Scott Barass of the Virginia USDA last Friday, (which was mostly cordial and somewhat free flowing), the one with Humberg was testy, controlled, hard boiled and at times, combative (though I have to admit the combativeness was mostly on my part). 
I was perhaps not in the best of moods when trying to get a hold of Humberg (who was referred to me from Barras).  I could not get him on Friday and had difficulty yesterday morning.
By the time I started complaining to a young, frustrated USDA representative, "Justin"  about the "impossibility of getting any answers!" on the USDA cullings for several weeks, he repeatedly accused me of "berating" the USDA.
"You don't realize the stress and fear of trying to monitor the few geese in Central Park every morning, while these roundups are occurring," I replied, equally frustrated.  "I have been trying for weeks to get answers on whether CP is on hit list and how long the cullings will continue in NYC and no one will provide them!" 
"I will get in touch with Mr. Humberg and ask him to call you as soon as possible -- hopefully within the next hour,"  came the reply.
About fifteen minutes later, the phone rang and it was Humberg.
I thanked him for calling and then told him I had numerous questions that needed answers.
After Humberg informed me that the goose roundups were completed for this year and that none were conducted at Central Park, I asked him why the roundups were still occurring in New York City (after killing thousands of geese over the past few years) and who was responsible for the decisions? 
"There are 20,000 geese in the New York Metropolitan area. That is an overabundance. The optimal number is 5,000."
"Five thousand seems like a very small number for the entire New York City area, Mr. Humberg. " I replied. "Five thousand people attending a baseball game, would be considered a small, anemic crowd.  I have to walk more than a mile and a half to see ANY geese in Central Park. Who makes that decision and what is the reasoning behind it?"
"Scientists, wildlife biologists, numerous agencies. Officials from the city and the parks," came Humberg's cool reply.
"But, what about our elected officials?  You know, those who are elected to represent the PEOPLE?  When I contact my representatives they know almost nothing about these roundups and according them, never had a vote on the issue!  What's with all the secrecy and lack of transparency?"
"We issue press releases and prepare reports on the roundups. We will release a report in a few weeks detailing how many geese were rounded up and from what locations, Humberg answered flatly.  "Nothing, 'secret' about it."
"Well, its not exactly front page news on the New York Times!" I countered, sarcastically. "Most people are totally unaware about the goose roundups and killings.  However, when informed about them, most people are horrified and certainly not supportive.  The people in Prospect Park are still angry about the roundup of 368 geese last year.  Its not something that people quickly forget, once they know about them."
"Look, I am sorry you had difficulty getting the answers you wanted when you wanted them," Humberg replied.  "But, you need to understand we work different hours here. And, very often decision for roundups are based upon changing locations and numbers of the geese. Sometimes we don't make those decisions until the day before a roundup."
"Oh, I know about different hours, Mr. Hamberg. -- Like the recent roundup in Madison, Wisconsin at 5 AM.   Speaking of roundups, what about the cruelty of rounding up wild, cold weather birds in the heat of summer and stuffing them in turkey crates?  How many geese do you put in one crate?"
"We usually put several into each crate.  But, its very humane.  I have overseen all the roundups."
"Where is the evidence of humaneness?" I asked.  "From the photos we've seen of a goose roundup from Randall's Island a couple of years, the geese are crammed into these crates like sardines. They appear terrified and disheveled.  Witness testimonies describe the geese as 'half or quite dead' while in the crates. Then, you claim they are to be shipped to Pennsylvania which is two to six hours away in this condition to be fed to food banks?  Where is the evidence to ANY humaneness?  Where is the evidence that they are even going to food banks?"
"We oversee the processing. But, it is up to the food banks to take what they want. We don't know what they use or don't use."
"Who does have that information?" I asked.
"I don't know." Humberg replied. 
"Can you find out and get back to me?"
"I'll look into it." 
From there the conversation when to "airline safety" and was like a verbatim repeat of the one with Scott Barass on Friday.
But, like Barass, Humberg also agreed that airliners should go to four engine, rather than two engine planes.  He then added, "Two engine planes are more likely to result in catastrophic loss if hitting a bird."
We then went back to the question of goose numbers again. I asked Humberg if the geese were fleeing to public parks to escape the threat from hunters in the rural areas. "They are very safety conscious birds, you know.  Between destruction of habitat and hunting, it seems the geese have NO safe place to go, BUT the urban areas."
"Yes, that is one theory for the high numbers of resident geese in the cities," Humberg seemed to tacitly concede.
"Then wouldn't the solution for that be to enhance restrictions on hunting in rural areas so the geese would be more likely to stay where they can feel somewhat safe?"
Humberg declined to offer an opinion on that.
All in all, the conversation is best described as testy, guarded and steely.
And while it was good news to learn that Central Park was not targeted and that the goose roundups have ended in New York City, it was very bad news to learn of that "5,000" target goose number for the entire Metropolitan area, as well as the fact, New York City is preparing its own goose processing protocols in order to kill the geese locally next year.
"Does that mean we are going to kill geese in New York City every year?" I asked Humberg.
"Only when their numbers need to be reduced." the USDA official replied steely and without any emotion.
The question is, that between harassment, habitat modification, egg addling, hunting and yearly "cullings of the geese,  will their numbers eventually become so low, they will be beyond recovery?  
Will the geese eventually totter on the brink of extinction as they did in the middle of the last century?
If the "theory" of the geese escaping to public parks and urban areas for perceived safety from hunters is true, the reality is that they have no "safety" or sanctuary here. -- Their urban paradise is lost. 
Or, as the Doors once sang:
"No One Gets Out of Here Alive."
For the geese, that statement is true in more ways than one. --- PCA


J Z said...

This man is digusting. Thank you for making this call so those of us who are concerned about the geese at least have some sort of update on what is happening. While there is no transparency to the process, what IS transparent is that the USDA is trying to keep this as hush hush as possible. They are very aware that this practice is inhumane and unsupported by science. By sneaking around in the early morning hours and refusing to provide clear answers to questions the USDA is effectively getting away with murder.

PCA said...

Thank you so much, JZ for your comment which basically says it all.

I could not agree with you more.