[CT Birds] Suit Says Owl Killings at Kennedy Airport Were Excessive - NYTimes.com

Arthur Shippee ashippee at snet.net
Mon Aug 4 17:24:16 EDT 2014


Suit Says Owl Killings at Kennedy Airport Were Excessive

In December, three snowy owls that had taken up residence at John F. Kennedy Airport, probably because airfields look similar to the Arctic tundra where the birds make their homes, were shot and killed by airport contractors.

Airport officials cited safety: Birds, as the US Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River in 2009 famously showed, can be hazardous to airplanes. But public reaction was furious — especially after it emerged that Logan International Airport in Boston, among others, had been working with conservation groups to capture and relocate snowy owls for years, rather than shooting them.  (http://www.massaudubon.org/get-outdoors/wildlife-sanctuaries/blue-hills-trailside-museum/snowy-owl-project)

The policy was quickly adjusted after the shootings became public. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the major New York area airports, said it would “move immediately toward” trapping and relocating snowy owls at those airports rather than killing them.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/10/nyregion/snowy-owls-to-be-trapped-instead-of-shot-at-new-york-area-airports.html)

But an animal-rights group is seeking a more meaningful and lasting guarantee.

On Friday, a judge in Federal District Court in Brooklyn heard arguments over whether a lawsuit should go forward that was brought by the group, Friends of Animals, seeking to change policies of the federal agencies that oversee bird removal at Kennedy.

The lawsuit says the “bird hazard reduction program” run by the Port Authority, which is not a subject of the suit, has killed tens of thousands of birds around Kennedy since 1994. While the group says it understands that some bird killings are necessary for public safety, shooting the snowy owls “was wholly unnecessary” as they are easily caught.

Under two federal laws concerning environmental protection and migratory birds, the lawsuit argues, the federal agencies involved in the shootings were required to disclose the scope and impacts of the bird-reduction program it oversees, and also to “discuss all reasonable alternatives to lethal” options. But the suit says that did not happen.

Because Friends of Animals represents bird-watchers around Kennedy Airport — the nearby Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is a top birding spot in New York City — the group’s members have been injured by the federal agencies’ decision, the group said as it explained why it had standing to bring this lawsuit.

In court on Friday, Michael Harris, a Friends of Animals lawyer, said that his group hoped to get the agencies to provide more information about how they dealt with birds.

“Here, they’re taking birds all the time, and all they’re saying is on such and such a date, we invoked an emergency permit and this number of birds were killed,” he said.

And while the policy regarding snowy owls changed after the December incident, “we can’t rely upon speculation and assertions about what the government will do in the future,” he said.

“We are advocating for a more species-by-species approach,” he added, where the agencies not use a “shoot-first mentality.”

The agencies being sued are the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which issues permits to round up birds, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s wildlife services unit, which carries out the bird killings and removal at Kennedy.

An assistant United States attorney, Margaret M. Kolbe, argued that the case against the wildlife services unit should be dismissed because that agency is just a contractor at the airport and cannot address the problem the suit seeks to fix.

“We’re saying the party who does this program is not before the court: That is Port Authority,” Ms. Kolbe said.

The group brought the lawsuit under the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal agencies make regulations. Under that act, only federal agencies can be sued, which is why the Port Authority was not included in the suit, Mr. Harris said after the hearing.

Ms. Kolbe asked for the entire lawsuit to be dismissed, saying the agencies had complied with the laws and had issued a lengthy 2012 report detailing how the airport dealt with birds.

Judge John Gleeson is expected to issue a decision in the coming weeks over whether the lawsuit (http://friendsofanimals.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/Complaint%20JFK%20Bird%20Management%20Program.pdf) can proceed.

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