By Barry Kent MacKay, Director
When you are, as I am, in the business of trying to protect animals and advocate on their behalf, it is not unusual to be subjected to the ad hominem accusation that you care about animals more than you care about people. Apart from the biological reality that both belong to the animal kingdom, compassion for one does not exclude caring about the other. Add to that simple self-preservation and what I dislike is stupidity that puts either people or animals, myself included, at risk.
According to the Montreal Gazette, the city of Montréal plans to build an organic waste treatment centre not far from Trudeau Airport.
Now that seems stupid because we know it puts both animals and humans at avoidable risk.
My life has been devoted to all animals, true, but my passion since earliest childhood has been for birds, and I’d pit my ornithological knowledge against over 99.9 percent of the population generally, and 100 percent of whomever came up with this idea.
I don’t mean to be insulting but in this era of so much suspicion of “fake news” and facts not mattering, facts actually do matter, and here are two. Flying is one of the safest modes of long distant transportation there is. That’s one. The other is that most airplane accidents happen during take-off and landings. Now here’s a third. What we call “bird strikes” are a statistically rare, but also a statistically significant, cause of such catastrophes.
It may seem that, say, a 40 gram Snow Bunting or a 30 gram Horned Lark could not be much of a threat to a 400,000 kg jetliner, or even a 300 kg Piper Cub, for that matter, but there are two more facts to contemplate. One is that small birds often occur in flocks, and if enough are sucked into a jet engine even minor damage can instantly trigger a cascading effect that can disable the engine. But the other, more pertinent fact, is that it is not such birds that are the greater concern.
What we call “organic waste” is what gulls and crows eat, as do rats and mice who, in turn, are food for hawks and owls. Gulls, crows, hawks and owls are all heavy enough to threaten airplane safety if they smash into cockpits or engines. According to news reports, there are all manner of precautions that have been considered for this waste facility that, enacted and enforced, would mitigate against birds coming into contact with the waste, but the devil is in the details as to what such precautions will be obligated in the final contract, and then enforced.
Location, location, location
There is no way to assure total protection from birds being hit by aircraft apart from either getting rid of all birds or all airplanes. And there is no place to put a waste facility of any kind that won’t annoy or worry someone. But there have been safety precautions that Aéroports de Montréal recommends that, according to the news reports, the city of Montreal is simply ignoring or addressing inadequately.
And that is what concerns me. It’s too easy for airports to simply kill wildlife so that they can assure insurance companies, airlines and the public that “something was being done” in the event of a catastrophe. Not good enough. What really needs to be done is well known, and it serves neither the interests in animal or human welfare not to assure what can be done is being done to protect both, and I’d start by not putting that kind of facility anywhere near an airport. Experiences teaches, yes, but it’s up to us to learn.
Barry Kent MacKay is a senior programme associate of Born Free USA., a director of Animal Alliance of Canada, General Manager of the Animal Protection Party of Canada, as well as a Life Member of the Wilson Ornithological Society, a Life Member of the Ontario Ornithological Club, Member of the Toronto Ornithological Club, and has a Certificate of Completion in Airport Wildlife Management Training and in 1993 was awarded the Médaille commémorative du 125e anniversaire de la Confédération du Canada for his analysis of the risks posed to aircraft at Pearson International Airport.