I recently wrote a big-think piece for The Atlantic about how the federal government’s and New York City’s gassing of Canada geese in a misguided attempt to reduce the risk of bird-plane collisions actually represents the beginning of a new and disturbing era in Man’s relationship to the creatures of the sky. Particularly if you’re a bird lover, I think you’ll enjoy it.
But in the course of researching the article, I came across some fascinating, simple advice from bird experts about the best way to reduce the risk of birds striking airplanes: grow the grass on runways higher.
Probably the single most effective way of avoiding bird-plane collisions is keeping grass next to runways high so that birds can’t see potential predators and stay away. The Air Force, for instance, mandates that grass near its runways be maintained between 7-14 inches for this very reason. But commercial airports around the country continue to clip their grass short, partly for perceived aesthetic values and partly because they mistakenly believe that short grass has to be cut less (the opposite is true). To the extent that bird strikes are a danger, bad turf management at airports and surrounding areas is usually the culprit.
“Sometimes, it’s just a matter of educating people how to manage the grass,” Russ DeFusco, a consultant on bird strike issues and a member of the Bird Strike committee, told me.
Indeed, grass is the major cause beyond all others of the “goose problem.” There are now hundreds of thousands of geese living year-round in Mid-Atlantic states like Virginia and New York — more than their historical populations (though far less than the tens of millions strong human population). Although there probably were always a handful of resident Canada geese outside of Canada, their numbers have exploded. The reason is almost entirely due to the expansion of suburban sprawl — and the lawns that accompany it.
Canada Geese evolved to live at least part of the year on the short grass tundra of Northern Canada. By chopping down America’s native forests and tall grass prairies, and replacing them with lawns, we’ve created a goose pleasure palace: full of nourishing Kentucky bluegrass and with clear sight lines to avoid predators. They also love corn, and, Lord knows, we grow a lot of it. Far from invasive species, Canada geese are the natural denizens of the invasive ecosystem that is the American lawn.
So to my large airport manager readership, your takeaway message is this: cutting your grass is putting your passengers at risk. Please stop.
Also, in an effort to avoid gas chambers for geese, sustainable, regulated hunts can get goose populations closer to normal and provide an ecologically friendly food source. So if you’re looking for an apparently delicious meal, pick up your shotgun, get a hunting permit and head to the water – and check out this recipe for goose mortadella from famed hunter/chef Hank Shaw.
Getting our food from nature – and ending cruel and useless practices like goose gassing – can help keep the sky wild and free.