Emergency wildlife management response to protect evidence associated with the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, New York City
At the request of the New York City Police Department, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, a team of USDA APHIS Wildlife Services (WS) biologists mobilized in less than 24 hours to assist federal, state and local law enforcement officials in managing birds and rodents impacting the recovery of evidence as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. During the 10-month recovery effort from September 2001 to June 2002, more than 1.7 million tons of debris was shipped from “Ground Zero” in Manhattan to a high-security crime scene at the Fresh Kills Landfill (FKL), Staten Island, New York. Close to a billion pieces of debris were sorted by law enforcement officials to recover personal effects, human remains, and other evidence to document the crime and identify victims, as part of the largest forensic investigation in U.S. history. Within days of bringing debris to FKL, more than 2,600 gulls were on site, disrupting work of law enforcement officials and creating a concern that evidence would be lost to birds. Historically, FKL has been a feeding and loafing site for over 100,000 gulls. To address this unprecedented wildlife damage management problem, WS implemented an integrated bird and rodent management program that involved 69 biologists from 23 states. The goal was to reduce the impact of gulls, crows, house mice, and Norway rats on law enforcement personnel, equipment, and evidence collection including a zero-tolerance policy for gulls and crows landing on the working face. A combination of population surveys and direct management activities targeting gulls and crows was initiated 12-14 hours a day, 7 days a week using visual and noise deterrents including pyrotechnics, mylar tape, human and dead-bird effigies, lasers, paint ball guns, and lethal removal of a limited number of birds. In addition, commensal rodent surveys with snap traps were conducted twice monthly to document population trends and explore the need for rodent control on site. We deployed over 23,000 pyrotechnics and dispersed over 172,000 gulls and 5,000 crows from the site. We removed 293 house mice and 46 Norway rats in 6,000 trap-nights. The program was highly effective in preventing gulls and crows from feeding on remains and disrupting workers. We discuss other key lessons learned regarding an emergency response program to manage wildlife.