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New York City to Gas Canada Geese

Monday, June 15, 2009
One of the more tragic side-effects of humanity's ascendency to the proverbial top of the food chain has been our increasingly pervasive tendency to regard nonhuman life in purely instrumental terms. I'm not saying that other (if not most) living things do not have the same predator/prey relationship with the world, but our species has become spectacularly adept at both vaunting our ability to compassionately relate to others and thoroughly ignoring our sense of empathy whenever it suits our needs, be they petty whims or grand drives.

For instance, I can recall the adults in my neighborhood cursing the various flora and fauna that happened to render their expensively manicured lawns and exquisitely arranged flower beds less than perfect. I found it difficult to understand why dandelions were such awful flowers when they were as beautiful to me as peonies. Nor did I ever understand why people would get so angry at a dewy-eyed doe for eating shrubbery. After all, the grasses and flowers were not native to the regions in which they were planted. They were, in a very real sense, invasive species. The native species -- the weeds and deer -- were only doing as they had always done; that is, try to live.

As I have grown a bit older, I am still taken aback whenever someone complains about the overpopulation of deer leading to more car accidents and such, as if human overpopulation and expansion was not equally to blame for the macadam roadways slicing through the woodlands the cervidae call home. Like the viruses we fear, human beings behave like biological imperialists, entering places we were not invited and resenting the native life for persevering and challenging our dominion.

I bring this up because there's a part of me that is saddened by the City of New York's plan to exterminate two thousand geese in an effort to lessen their potential threat to aircraft flying in and out of the city's two major international airports, as WCBS reports. Now, certainly, I understand and appreciate the desire to preemptively address conditions that can lead to circumstances like those that led to the near-disastrous end of Flight 1549, but the hunting of geese in "about 40 public parks" gives me pause. I can't help but feel the birds have more right to the skies than do humans.

There's no easy solution to this problem, of course. Neither people nor geese are not going to stop flying, so conflict is inevitable. I guess what troubles me most is the indifference such articles reveal. Rather than individual beings with existences as important to them as ours are to us, the Canada Geese are nuisances to be brushed away lest they damage our expensive machinery. And that's the thing: the article does not mention a single human casualty; it just lists the "more than 89,000 incidents since 1990, including 28 cases since 2000 when a collision with a bird or other animal such as a deer on a runway was so severe that the aircraft was considered destroyed." Of course, there's no mention of the nonhuman lives "destroyed."

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