Managing wildlife near the airport is complex

My turn

Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2001

Tuesday evening, I attended a meeting sponsored by the Mendenhall Refuge Citizens Advisory Group on airport wetlands issues. I'd read in the paper that Airport Manager Al Heese and also Ralph Sanford would be presenting. So, as an daily dike trail hiker, I was pleased at the opportunity to ask questions about the dike trail at the airport, the bird hazing and other wildlife issues related to the plans for airport improvements.

We were very disappointed. Over a dozen people, including employees from the Department of Fish and Game, waited but Mr. Sanford never showed up and Mr. Heese did not appear until nearly 8:30 p.m. Because the Mendenhall Library closes at 9 p.m., those attending had little time to ask questions about airport plans. This isn't the first time Mr. Sanford was scheduled to attend a meeting on airport issues but did not show.

Bill Wilmoth, a biologist from the Department of Agriculture assigned to the airport and in charge of the hazing program, did attend and answered a few of our questions about his program. Mr. Wilmoth has tried a variety of techniques in addition to hazing to keep birds from flying over or walking on the airport runway but with mixed results. No one wants birds on the runway but his answers to some of our questions were troubling. Apparently the efforts of other airports to prevent airplane-bird accidents across the country have not been studied, although reports of these efforts should be easily obtainable by phone call, Internet or letter. And when asked about the effect of fall hunting on birds in airport air space, the airport biologist said that the hunting areas in the wetlands were not part of his assignment. Yet this is when the majority of bird-airplane incidents occur. From what I have seen during my daily walks over the past few years, it appears that many migrating waterfowl seek the safety of the "no hunting" ponds near the airport during the times of heaviest hunting early each fall.

Managing the wildlife, especially birds in a refuge adjacent to the airport, is an extremely complex problem. Finding solutions requires a serious scientific effort that includes looking at studies done by other airports, the needs of the dike trail users, the effects of the hunting season on bird air flight patterns and the interrelationships of the indigenous species. I did not leave the meeting with a sense that the airport staff fully comprehends the intricacies of the relationship between the birds and the airport or the delicate ecological balance of the refuge's plants, birds and sea life. A thorough ecological and environmental study should be prepared before such proposals as cutting down trees, paving over ponds and rerouting the dike trail are implemented. This is a precious area to hundreds of Juneauites. Every effort to preserve the natural habitat should be made.

I was not the only person to leave the meeting with a deep sense of frustration. The Federal Aviation Administration is holding a meeting on the Environmental Impact Statement for the airport at the Centennial Hall next Wednesday, June 20 from 5 p.m. Many of us had hoped to obtain a lot more information at the meeting on Tuesday to prepare us for the one next week.

The airport management staff owe it to the people of Juneau to be more forthcoming and responsive to their questions and concerns. I regret to say that it is my impression that instead, they consider lovers of the dike trail, environmentalists, biologists, hunters and others who care about wetlands preservation to be as much of an airport problem as the birds they regularly haze.

Patricia Judson moved to Juneau in 1955 and walks the wetland dike trail every day.

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