The deadly shooting of three snowy owls at JFK International Airport in New York earlier this month has sparked a lawsuit by an animal rights group, which claims that two government agencies failed to try non-lethal methods to remove the birds from the area.
Connecticut-based advocacy organisation Friends of Animals has filed suit against the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, arguing that “the killing of these owls was wholly unnecessary” and “avoidable.”
According to the lawsuit, officials at the two agencies are required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) “to not only disclose the scope and impacts of the Bird Reduction program, but to also discuss all reasonable alternatives to lethal take.”
But, Friends of Animals argues, there was no “meaningful discussion” of non-lethal ways to keep snowy owls away from plane engines in JFK’s Gull Hazard and Bird Hazard Reduction Programs, so “wildlife officials depending on these documents resorted to their default control measure — shooting.”
The suit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to challenge the failure of the federal agencies to comply with the two acts in question.
The lawsuit also notes that the snowy owl is “widely familiar to children as Hedwig, the beloved pet of boy wizard Harry Potter.”
A spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service told the Daily News that major airports are allowed to control threatening animal populations, and “in almost all cases, nonlethal control efforts are used.”
The order to shoot the birds was given after several flew struck planes at the airport, NBC reported. Bird strikes can bring down planes if they damage engines badly enough, and cause expensive damage. After the shootings were widely reported, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airport, rescinded that order.
The snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) is one of more than 800 species protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it “illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale” the animals “except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations.”
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