Op-Ed: The Bird Holocaust Is Coming To Jamaica Bay!

The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Source: Flickr / Howard N2GOT (Howard Brier)

There is an old parable about the Holocaust. With a little tweaking, it translates quite well to the situation we face at Jamaica Bay today:

First they came for the starlings,
and I didn’t speak out because I needed a flight.
Then they came for the geese,
and I didn’t speak out because I needed a flight.
Then they came for the cormorants,
and I didn’t speak out because I needed a flight.
Then they came to shut down the wildlife refuge,
and why not, since there was nothing left anyway.

Well, folks, the bird Holocaust is coming to Jamaica Bay.

In 1960, an Eastern Airlines flight out of Boston crashed because the engines had sucked up a bunch of starlings.  There was a huge public outcry to get rid of starlings. Lately, we have been hearing that the geese are a major threat to jet planes. Senator Gillibrand wants to round all of them up and kill them. Well, kill them just for being what they are – geese.

This week on Channel 7, there was a big story on how the gulls in Jamaica Bay are a danger to planes.

The story was based on an interview with Steve Garber, a “Wildlife Manager for JFK during the mid-1990s.” He says that having breeding colonies of gulls in the Bay is the dumbest spot in the world” and that the gulls should be “relocated.” But relocated where?

“Jamaica Bay is supposed to be a wildlife sanctuary, not a death camp for birds and mammals.”

He added that when planes fly, “They suck in everything, so when they go through a flock like this every bird nearby will get sucked right in.” The story stated that, “The bird colony on these islands is thriving, proof of the Port Authority’s and the Federal Government’s complete failure to eliminate a threat that they know has existed for at least 40 years.”

By the way, the “islands” that they are referring to are the marsh islands, the very places that residents of the waterfront communities around the Bay – as well as the local and federal government – have been trying to protect, preserve and reconstruct, because they provide bird habitats! Duh!

Isn’t Jamaica Bay supposed to be a wildlife refuge? After they get rid of the gulls, what species will be the next culprit? After all, those jet engines “suck in everything.” The cormorants maybe? They are awfully big birds and there seem to be a lot of them around. And talking about big birds, how about getting rid of the majestic egrets and herons that draw thousands of birdwatchers to the Bay?

Well, they’re halfway there. This public (though not very) notice landed in my inbox yesterday:

OPPORTUNITY FOR PUBLIC REVIEW FINAL SUPPLEMENT TO THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT BIRD HAZARD REDUCTION PROGRAM: JOHN F. KENNEDY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. “Proposed off-airport hazard management activities include Mute Swan, Double-crested Cormorant, blackbird, crow, Rock Pigeon and European Starling management within a 5-mile radius of JFK. Actions to address risks from resident Canada Geese have been proposed for a seven-mile radius around JFK. “Written comments can be sent to: State Director, USDA APHIS Wildlife Services, 1930 Route 9, Castleton, NY 12033-9653, Phone: (518) 477-4837, Fax: (518) 477-4899. The review period closes on June 13, 2012.

So they plan to go after every pigeon, starling, swan, cornorant and who-knows-what-else in a five-mile radius. What’s next? Sparrows? Mourning doves? Jamaica Bay is on one of the greatest migratory flyways in the world!

What a 5-mile radius of JFK looks like (Source: Google Maps // Click to enlarge)

I went to Google Earth and drew a circle marking the five-mile radius with Jamaica Bay in the center. New parks at Pennsylvania Avenue and Fountain Avenue near the Gateway shopping center? In the killing zone. Almost all of Jamaica Bay, including the newly restored marsh islands? In the killing zone. Marsh areas east of Rockaway near Atlantic Beach? In the killing zone.

Again folks, Jamaica Bay is supposed to be a wildlife sanctuary, not a death camp for birds and mammals. And what happens when these great minds figure out that birds can actually fly from one area to another?

Environmentalists know the golden rule of ecosystems: if one species is removed, another species will take over. So if the gulls and the geese are gone, there will be more resources available for whatever species moves in to occupy their niche. And that species may be even more problematic.

National Parks Service – the federal authority that manages Jamaica Bay – is getting away with murder here! They are setting the stage for further industrial expansion into the Bay by permitting the construction of the gas pipeline metering station in the hanger at Floyd Bennett Field. There hasn’t been a peep out of them about the calls for killing the geese.

They are doing nothing to protect Gateway and the Bay. Plus, there hasn’t been a peep out of Congressman Bob Turner, who, by the way, supports hydrofracking near our watershed, and also voted to permit construction of the gas pipeline underneath the Bay.

Right now, as we speak, a USDA truck is driving around and around the new parks created (at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars) on top of the old Pennsylvania Avenue and Fountain Avenue landfills, near the Gateway shopping centers. The USDA has been doing this every day, from before dawn until after dusk, for several years now. Their sole purpose is to monitor the bird populations that are attracted to the new parks and determine whether or not they will be a threat to JFK Airport.

Mind you, one of the primary reasons that these parks were so carefully planned was to provide bird habitat!

The writing is on the wall here, folks, and we are asleep at the wheel. Getting rid of large numbers of birds will accomplish two things:

  1. It will make the Bay “safer” for jets, and
  2. Once all of those damn birds are gone and the Bay is now “safe” the real objective behind all of this can move forward: expansion of the airport by filling in parts of Jamaica Bay.

But there is a silver lining in this cloud: As all of those flights soar over the Bay, the people onboard will have a beautiful view of all of those nice, green, newly constructed marsh islands that will have created habitat for… absolutely nothing.

Ida Sanoff is a native Brooklynite and chair of the Natural Resources Protective Association, a citywide non-profit dedicated to preserving marine and shoreline habitats and open space. NRPA was founded in Staten Island in 1977 by the late Lou Figurelli.