Wayne Pacelle’s letter to the editor describing the recent bird poisoning at the George Bush airport was published by the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday. Pacelle is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the world’s largest animal welfare organization. Note the recommendation for OvoControl.
While OvoControl enjoys the benefits of HSUS support, we know enough about this market to unequivocally state that facility managers and engineers do not use OvoControl only because it is humane – they use it because the contraceptive program is highly effective in abating pigeons at impacted sites.
Pacelle: Houston airport, airline show how not to deal with birds
A little compassion, foresight could have avoided the carnage
By Wayne Pacelle
August 5, 2014 | Updated: August 5, 2014 8:42pm
Managers at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport and United Airlines have set an example.
What the rest of us should learn from it is what not to do.
The lesson is that bad management cannot be remedied by an outdated exercise in bad judgment.
I'm writing about the killing of untold numbers of birds. Images of this carnage shocked viewers of Houston's KHOU (Channel 11) - distressed birds convulsing and writhing, sometimes for nearly an hour, before succumbing to poison that was intentionally introduced into bird food to inflict maximum suffering and grotesque deaths.
Nobody in his right mind would argue with legitimate steps to maximize aviation safety. Unfortunately, that seems to be the backdrop here.
Bird populations at this international aviation gateway apparently were allowed to grow too large without adequate controls - everyday nonlethal measures that other airports routinely undertake.
That was the first management error. It meant that over time, the airport created its own problem.
The mistake was compounded when airport authorities - in cooperation with United Airlines - hired a contractor to wage war on these grackles, pigeons and other birds by lacing corn kernels with the deadly toxicant Avitrol. Startled airport employees saw birds dropping out of the sky shortly after dawn on a Saturday and the deaths continued through an entire weekend. Some birds recorded by the TV crew took almost an hour to die. Avitrol is a particularly horrible chemical that is marketed not only as a poison but as a "frightening agent" because it causes birds to convulse and suffer over long periods of time. This sight is supposed to scare other birds.
I wrote to city, airport and United Airlines officials, pointing out that exclusion, using netting or other means, has been widely proved to keep birds from places where they might nest, roost or seek shelter. Other habitat management actions are also in wide usage at airports, such as altering the height of grass along runways, denying birds access to sources of food and water, and deploying frightening devices and visual repellents.
While Avitrol creates carnage, the reproductive inhibitor OvoControl can stabilize populations through fertility control.
By not acting sooner, and with greater wisdom, by not displaying so much as a flicker of compassion and then resorting to the very worst kind of indiscriminate assault on birds, the Houston airport and United failed their passengers, residents and wildlife.
By contrast, airport authorities in Dallas-Fort Worth told the Houston Chronicle that they do not use lethal tactics ("Birds' painful deaths draw look at airport safety issue" - Page A1, July 17). Many other airports around the nation have abandoned Avitrol as an impractical means of preventing bird strikes.
The government's approach, like the Houston airport's, needs to be modernized in light of the public concern about humane treatment of all animals.
We are fortunate to have a world populated with birds. To be able to watch their feats of flight and hear their marvelous song is a source of human wonder and enjoyment. We see them around our homes and workplaces in ways we cannot often see and enjoy other wildlife. They enrich our lives. Of course, conflicts are inevitable - and in the case of aviation, serious. But the challenge for us is to actively manage these conflicts in a way that does not leave a trail of death and misery in its wake.
Houston airport officials and United Airlines showed us the wrong way to handle the conflict.
Wayne Pacelle is president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.