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FoA Files Lawsuit in Response to Snowy Owl Killings

December 20, 2013 | Snowy Owls / Wildlife Law Program

Friends of Animals has filed a lawsuit against two government agencies, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for killing three snowy owls, which violated the National Environmental Policy Act NEPA and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act MBTA.

The gunshots that were fired at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York over the weekend of Dec. 6, killing the three snowy owls, were heard round the world.  By Dec. 9, thanks to an investigative report by CBS New York featuring Edita Birnkant, NY Director of FoA, millions of New Yorkers, Americans and people around the globe woke to learn that over the weekend government agents had shot and killed the owls—a species widely familiar to children as Hedwig, the beloved pet of boy wizard Harry Potter, and considered a cherished find by bird watchers—as well as a number of other birds.

The killing of the snowy owls was carried out under the Gull Hazard/Bird Hazard Reduction Program, authorized by the defendants in this case, to protect aircraft departing and arriving at JFK from bird strikes.  Since 1994, this program has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of birds at and near JFK.

The officials at the two government agencies named in the lawsuit were required to fully disclose the scope of their proposed bird reduction plan, to analyze the impacts of the program on wildlife and to explain whether impacts to wildlife—including the targeted birds—could be reduced. However nowhere in the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision for the Gull Hazard/Bird Hazard Reduction Program at JFK can one find any discussion about specific non-lethal methods for handling snowy owls. 

This defect in the EIS is serious for several reasons.  First, under the MBTA, USFWS is required to reduce the lethal take of protected bird species like the snowy owl. 

The killing of these birds could also have a significant impact on the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and Gateway National Recreation Area, which are adjacent to JFK and considered prime locations for viewing birds and bird migrations. 

The killings also raise a larger question about the bird program at JFK—exactly how many other birds are being killed on a regular basis that could instead be managed in non-lethal ways? 

FOA does not dispute that it may be necessary to manage some wildlife near airports to ensure public safety. However the killing of these owls was wholly unnecessary. As one new report noted “[e]ven a wildlife specialist didn't understand why they were being killed because they are not part of a large population and they are easy to catch and relocate, unlike seagulls.” 

In response to the backlash from the snowy owl shootings, New York Port Authority quickly said it would adopt a no kill policy and instead catch and release the birds like the program in place at Logan International Airport in Boston.  This lawsuit seeks to make sure the agency, and the federal government, in fact do so.

Read a copy of the full complaint


protect snow owls!

There is no reason to be killing these poor birds, it must stop. It is bad enough all we do is take their land and then complain when they are invading territory they would never invade it is all our fault not theirs.

A cruel and unnecessary fix that could have been resolved by relocating the owls. Another example of human selfishness and stupidity.

Stop the killing of owls. This must stop

Please stop the the killings of these beautiful owls.

"Wildlife Services" (APHIS) is a rogue agency within the department of agriculture. They are simply a money making extermination company that work with federal agency immunity from local laws. They serve no discernible useful purpose and should be defunded in the next round of federal budget-cutting.

Recently I read of birders in other states driving long distances to see these birds in their areas. Meanwhile, they were being killed in New York. So sad.

I congratulate FOA on prompt action. APHIS/USDA Wildlife Services et al are out of control. I guess that they are so emboldened by their sneaky pre dawn raids of geese in Prospect Park and other locations That they consider successes. People don't even realize the numbers of other species that are killed all over this country by them, mostly at the behest of agribusiness who lobby for taxpayer funded killing to increase their profits. They kill MILLIONS of birds every year. Ever notice a spring where there seem to be less starlings? Brown headed cowbirds? And why doesn't anyone seem to care that the PA Police regularly shoot seagulls? What kind of idiot thought to put an airport in a bird sanctuary and marshland and then are surprised that birds are drawn to it? Hopefully now that the rein of the little dictator mayor is over we will see a more compassionate solution to problems like this. We can send men to the moon but we can't find a way to protect planes from sucking in birds?

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