For immediate release July 30, 2014
Contacts: Mike Harris, Director, Wildlife Law Program; 720.949.7791;
Edita Birnkrant, Campaigns Director, Friends of Animals; 917.940.2725;
Priscilla Feral, President, Friends of Animals; 203.656.1522,


FoA to Defend Snowy Owls in Court

Following the shooting of snowy owls at JFK back in December, which was widely covered in the media, FoA filed a lawsuit in February against the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

According to Michael Harris, legal director of FoA’s Colorado-based Wildlife Law Program, the lawsuit is already working to protect migratory birds at JFK. After the filing of the suit in February, USFWS announced it intended to readdress the federal permit conditions that authorized the killing of snowy owls. On June 11, 2014, USFWS issued a new permit that, according to the agency, clarifies the “stated preference for non-lethal methods be the primary means of management.” 

In addition, the new permit places a greater reporting burden on the airport when birds are taken as a result of an “emergency.” Instead of merely stating that a lethal action has occurred, airport officials must now provide a “complete narrative” of all of the conditions leading up to the event and the killing of birds. 

“This is important because it places more transparency into wildlife management at the airport involving wild birds, and forces the government to think harder about its actions,” Harris said. “We certainly hope to see a reduction in killing by requiring the trigger puller to think about how he intends to explain his decision to the public.”

The killing of the snowy owls in December 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 alleged bird strikes. Since 1994, this program has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of birds at and near JFK.

FoA attorneys quickly determined that the defendants never complied with federal requirements 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. 

In response to FoA’s advocacy and stated intention to file a lawsuit, 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 agencies, and the federal government, stick to that policy.

At the first hearing in March, the Court established a schedule to proceed with the case. The second hearing, on the merits, will be held before U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson at 10 a.m. in courtroom 6C at U.S. District Court Brooklyn Courthouse. FoA will be represented by Michael Harris.

The courthouse is located at 225 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, NY 11201.