Hazing program near Juneau airport needs fixing

Posted: Sunday, May 07, 2000

As a 45-year resident of Juneau and a daily user of the very popular airport wetlands trail, I am appalled at the sudden excessive use of sound cannons to disperse the waterfowl and other birds indigenous to this wildlife refuge area. Airport safety is important, but so is our wildlife.

For decades the waterfowl and other wildlife have peaceably co-existed with the airport until now. But for the past several weeks, along with hundreds of other regular wetlands walkers, I have heard and seen cannons fired minutes apart for entire days and evenings. The blasts of the four new cannons recently purchased by the airport echo across the channel area disturbing not only birds but also all the people residing in the surrounding area.

On two recent evenings, the van with the cannons stopped at the end of the runway and fired over the dike trail where parents, children and infants in strollers had been minutes before. Other users have seen waterfowl harmlessly floating in ponds so frightened by the noise they end up flying across the airport runway, becoming a possible danger to any plane in the area, but only due to the hazing.

Two other regular walkers told me they'd seen cannons fired at the wild swans in one of the ponds. And, for years, we've been greeted by the same eagles perched on the same trees along the tidal area. We don't see them any more. The permit granted to the airport for this hazing program has no written operational plan, according to the Department of Fish and game. Firing is permitted at airport management discretion with only an annual report required. There is no evidence of any outside monitoring. Clearly there is little consideration for the well-being of the wildlife in the area despite recognition that the wetlands are an official wildlife refuge.

A study of the effect this continual noise bombardment has on species migration and survival is needed. Wildlife research has shown that bird species are disappearing at a rapid rate throughout the world because of habitat destruction. Must this wonderful refuge be next? As a frequent air traveler myself, I naturally believe without question that safety is essential. But is this constant hazing really necessary to airport safety? The evidence to support it appears to be slim. A permit allowing the airport to disperse all the wetlands waterfowl without sufficient monitoring, controls or research is a major disservice to the thousands of people who walk this area annually and to the wildlife we have an obligation to protect.

I propose the following:

The details of the permit allowing the airport to fire at will be made public for review and comment.

An ornithologist from the Department of Fish and Game, or Fish and Wildlife, be assigned to the airport to monitor the firings of the cannons and to assure there is no excessive use of noise or damage to the waterfowl.

The airport, fish and game, the users of the wetlands, including such groups as the Wetlands Advisory Committee, the Audubon Society and other interested parties, formalize a working relationship to assure that our wildlife is preserved while maintaining airport safety.

There is an immediate cessation of the intensified hazing program and a return to the one used in previous years until a review of the safety and wildlife issues is complete.

Patty Judson is a regular hiker on the Juneau Airport wetlands trail.

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