Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Patron Saint of Lost Causes?

I remember as a kid in Catholic school hearing something about a "patron saint of lost causes."
I don't recall who the saint was, but we need to pray to that saint now.
Because fighting for the protection and respect for Canada geese is indeed, a "lost cause" on almost all levels.
Yesterday, I had a long phone conversation with a high official of the USDA.
Normally, when quoting from conversations with officials of parks or agencies, I use their real names.
However, in this case I feel it better not to use the full name of the person, because he might not appreciate some of his statements in print.  We will simply refer to him as, "AG."
AG is very polite, gracious and friendly over the phone.
But, he is unmovable in either conviction or sentiment.
I of course had many questions for AG, some of which will be relayed here, along with his stunning and in most cases, extremely discouraging answers.
The first questions had to do with the USDA roundup and slaughter of 575 NYC geese and goslings this past summer for "distribution to Pennsylvania food bank:"
(Me)  "Mr. G, it says in the USDA report that only 424 lbs of goose meat was given to food banks.  How is that possible from 575 geese?  These birds typically weigh about ten pounds.  That is less than one pound of meat per bird.  What happened to the rest?"
(AG)  "There is very little edible meat on these birds.....But, this was not about feeding the poor. It was about removal of the geese."
(Me)  "Well, if its not about charity and food banks, why were these geese sent all the way to Pennsylvania?  Wasn't that just a cheap PR ploy to pacify the media and the public?  We spent $78.00 per bird to yield that small amount of meat?  We could have sent vats of caviar to Pennsylvania for that money."
(AG)  "Where are you getting that figure from?"
(Me)  "Supposedly, $45,000 was spent for the roundup.  575 geese. That comes out to about $78.00 per bird."
(AG)  "As said, this was about removal of the geese within 7 miles of the airports.  Canada geese represent the third biggest bird threat to airliners next to turkey vultures and....
(Me) "Bird strikes are far down on the list of things that cause planes to go down or have to emergency land!  Mechanical problems and pilot error are the major causes.   A plane crashed last week and killed ten people.  Are we going to ban air shows?" 
(AG)  "No, but for sure, changes will have to be made."
(Me)  "Every year people are killed and property destroyed by falling tree branches. Should we chop down all the trees?"
(AG)  "I would cut down all the trees, were that decision mine to make."
(Me) "But, we are planting more trees!"
(AG)  "Yes, the mayor is planting a million trees."
Completely stunned by AG's response to this question, I decided to switch gears and ask about the factors that determine where the USDA conducts goose roundups:
(Me)  "Mr. G, I have spoken to other USDA officials who told me the USDA does not conduct roundups where there are low numbers of geese.  But, I see in its report that the USDA rounded up 7 geese from Flushing Meadow Park.  Is seven considered a high number of geese?"
(AG)  "I believe the cutoff figure was ten geese in a location. There were 11 geese at Flushing Meadow Park when it was surveyed.  The intent was to get them all."
(Me) "So, 11 geese was considered a high number?  High enough for a cull?  How come USDA did not go into Prospect Park this year?  They had more than 11 geese."
(AG)  "Prospect Park is more than 7 miles from the airports."
(Me)  "But, USDA rounded up 368 geese from Prospect Park last year!  How do you explain that?  Did the park move?"
(AG) "No," (laughing)  "The tip of Prospect Park is within 7 miles of the airports, but the pond is not."
(Geese were rounded up at the lake at Prospect Park last year, not the "tip."   Apparently USDA went out of 7 mile zone for last year's Prospect Park goose gassings.)
Switching gears again.
(Me) "Mr. G, do the feelings of park patrons ever enter into USDA's decisions to round up geese?   I see that USDA went to Inwood Park twice -- despite a park goer complaining about the first roundup in this park.  Why did USDA go back for 10 geese?"
(AG)  "We are aware that some people see the geese like pets.  But, the decisions for roundups are made on the basis of parks' proximity to airports and the goal of keeping air travelers safe."
(Me)  "But, resident park geese barely fly over the trees!  We could have killed every resident goose in NY state prior to January of 09 and it would not have prevented flight 1549 from colliding with two migratory geese from Labrador, Canada!  Is it really an option to kill every bird that flies?"
(AG)  "Those geese from Canada might have been wintering in the state and flying near the airport.   Geese are more plentiful than other birds. They can do more damage. A plane collided with a goose last week.  Had the plane gone down and people died, we might not be having the same conversation."
"Might, maybe, can, could, may." 
I was getting tired of all the "mights" and "maybes."
I wanted to say that I "might" have a mansion in the Bahamas, but the fact is, I don't.  But, I didn't say that.
(Me) "Mr. G, I would like to question this figure of 20,000 to 25,000 geese in NYC metro area that the USDA has been using for last 4 years.  Where does that come from and why has it not changed in all these years of goose killings?"
(AG) "We are going by count estimates from the DEC. You have to ask them that question."
(Me) "When was the last time they did a goose count?"
(AG)  "I am not sure.  Again, you have to ask them that question."
(Me), "Well, where are all these 20,000 geese hiding?  Westchester?  Port Washington?  I look at the USDA roundup tallies for this year and there were not a real large population of geese anywhere.  The list for surveys is very long. But, the list for actual roundups, very short."
(AG)  "There could be a large population of geese in the outlying areas. (again, "could.") But, we are only concerned with the geese within 7 miles of the airports."
(Me)  "You know we have NO geese at all in Central Park right now.  Normally, we would have about 75 geese this time of year at Harlem Meer alone,  but there are ZERO in the entire 900 acre park!"
(AG)  "Really?  That is interesting."
(AG seemed astonished at this.  And yet, Central Park had been surveyed in the report.)
(Me)  "Well, of course, Central Park uses harassment on the geese.  So it is hard to tell exactly what is normal under the circumstances. Nevertheless, it seems there are no geese to fly into Central Park anymore.  I believe the population has been decimated in New York City."
(AG)  "The geese are very prolific.  There are plenty of them."
(Me)  "There used to be hundreds of millions of passenger pigeons.  But, they are long extinct."
(AG)  "Yes, that was a tragedy. But, that would not happen now. There are protections in place to prevent that."
(Me)  "You mean captive breeding and release -- like what we did in the last century when the geese almost went extinct?  But, that was to preserve the geese as hunting targets.  You know, not everyone see the geese as just hunting targets. I could show you photos of big, burly men feeding geese.  I am sure they are not happy now that the geese have been taken away from them."
(AG)  "I am sure they care more about football games."
(Me)  "That is only because they don't know who to call to protest the banishment and killing of the geese.  They probably don't even realize what's happened!"
(AG)  "Don't worry.  In another week or two you will see plenty of geese arriving at Central Park."
(Me)  "I have been telling myself that for weeks now.  But, its not happening. Why should I be confident that the geese are going to make it through a hail of bullets?  Do you realize there is NO SAFE PLACE for these birds anymore?  WHERE are they supposed to GO?"
AG did not answer those questions.
(Me)  "Mr. G, please tell me what is an acceptable number of geese in NYC that they won't be rounded up and killed?"
(AG)  "I cannot really answer that as we have to minimize the threat to airliners within 7 miles of the airports."
(Me) "That sounds like every goose is fair game. Is there nothing we can do to stop future slaughters?"
(AG)  "Nothing that I can think of."
(Me, choking up, crying)  "These are beautiful, majestic and valiant birds!    It kills me to think of how the geese are being vilified and made to suffer. How they are being hunted, demonized and slaughtered in every corner of the country.  I am BEGGING, IMPLORING YOU and the USDA to use every means possible to recommend and implement the use of non-lethal control methods over the ruthless slaughter of thousands of geese.   As it is, this report recommends EXPANDING the killings!"
(AG)   "You can't go by just one report. We encourage and implement non-lethal means of goose control far more than we conduct lethal roundups."
(Me)  "That is not what we are seeing."
It was around this point that the nearly hour long conversation ended.
But, afterwards I could not help feeling almost completely demoralized and hopeless.
It reminds one of a quote from the Coalition to Abolish Sport Hunting:
"What has been going on transcends Canada geese and goes to the heart of good government, not to mention the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. A tiny fiefdom in Freehold has gone unchecked and unchallenged for too long. We have some of the answers. It's past time legislators and attorneys started asking the right questions. In the meantime, the Canada goose -- majestic, intelligent, loyal beyond all bounds to mate and offspring is up against it. Abandoned by bird snobs, overproduced by game managers, set-up by bureaucrats, hated by a vocal minority; all are piling on, and its future looks bleak. If you believe in lost causes, this is your bird."  -- The C.A.S.H. Courier
So, what is the name of the patron saint of lost causes?
We need to start praying --  long and hard to him or her now.   -- PCA

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