Four Ways to Value a Goose

Animal policy lessons from Flight 1549

A gaggle of Canada geese crosses a path in Cincinnati's Sharon Woods. Photo courtesy of Konstantin Vasserman.

A gaggle of Canada geese crosses a path in Cincinnati’s Sharon Woods. Photo courtesy: Konstantin Vasserman.

A year ago today, the celebrated level heads of US Air Flight 1549’s captain and crew brought Americans together around a rare and villain-free moment of heroism. The plane had flown from New York’s La Guardia Airport into a flock of geese, lost the use of both engines, and landed safely on the Hudson River, saving 155 lives.

But the near-disaster shook the waters of animal policy-makers.  Representatives of ecology, animal protection, and hunting interests, long at odds over how human cities should treat geese, lobbed opposing arguments through the media for months.

Today, the accident’s lingering fallout reveals the vastly different ways of seeing geese that underlie those arguments, and make it hard for people to find common ground around wild animals.

An old problem

After the accident, New York City officials were quick to declare their commitment to preventing future goose airstrikes.

“Lives are at stake here,” said Queens City Councilman David Weprin. “We cannot afford to wait until another accident occurs.”

But the city faced the task of somehow cracking down on a problem they had already been battling for years: large birds sharing New York City’s airways.  Despite the use of techniques both lethal (shooting and gassing), and non-lethal (harassment and abortive “egg-addling”) to keep geese away from airports, the number of wildlife airstrikes increased from 1,759 in 1990 to 7,666 in 2007.

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Issue 2: What, Who, and Why?

What does Issue 2 propose?

Issue 2 would amend Ohio’s constitution to place future decisions about the treatment of livestock animals, in the hands of a government-appointed “Livestock Care Standards Board.”

The resolution does not define “livestock,” so it is unclear whether dogs raised on large-scale intensive breeding facilities–known by detractors as “puppy mills”–would be affected by this legislation.

An employee at White's Livestock Auction in Brooksville, IN, moves pigs into a waiting pen.

A White's Livestock Auction employee moves pigs into a waiting pen, in Brookville, IN.

Why has Issue 2 been proposed?

Issue 2’s proponents have been clear about their motive: to prevent animal welfare reforms backed by the Humane Society of the United States. An HSUS-supported referendum passed this year in California, which requires that all caged farm animals be given enough room to stretch their wings and legs, and turn around in a circle.  While small farms often meet this requirement, the large, industrialized indoor farms that provide most of America’s meat and eggs, often do not.

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