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Davis

Davis, California

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Sacramento airport seeks protection from bird strikes

Last month’s crash of US Airways flight 1549 into the Hudson River has airports across the country considering the severe danger of bird strikes.

Flight 1549 was brought down when birds were caught in each of the plane’s engines at 3,200 ft.

Since Sacramento International Airport lies under the Pacific Flyway, a migration path for birds, the airport is plagued with an excess of birds in the area, said Gina Swankie, airport spokesperson.

Sacramento Airport officials are currently working with legislators to increase their defenses against birds populating the area and posing a potential threat to aircraft and passengers.

While this discussion comes at a time that coincides with the Hudson River crash, “it is not in response to it,” Swankie said.

The airport currently has a wildlife management plan that is used to keep bird populations under control, she said.

“The majority of our process is non-lethal,” Swankie said. “Our methods are meant to harass the bird population and get them away from our runways.”

These methods include modifying the landscape to make it inhospitable for birds and firing cannons to scare flocks away.

The only time airport personnel would take lethal action against birds is if they posed an imminent threat, she said. Airport employees attempt to preserve the bird population as much as possible.

Now, airport wildlife management staff wants to make sure they are within their legal rights to continue their wildlife management, Swankie said. They want to make sure the language of state and federal laws are consistent with each other.

“The most important thing to understand is we’re not asking for something new,” she said. “We’re just asking the state and the federal government to have like language.”

While the airport’s main priority is to keep their aircrafts and all those aboard safe, they understand that they have a difficult task ahead of them.

“We understand the delicate balance between the environment and what we need to do for the wildlife management plan,” Swankie said.

In order to continue their management of birds on the runways, airport officials need to obtain a permit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

When working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, airports are usually seeking to gain a depredation permit, said Alex Pitts, spokesperson for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

Depredation permits are issued to allow the taking of migratory birds that are causing serious damage to public or private property.

“We look at these permits on a case by case basis,” Pitts said. “We look really carefully at the given situation … and the effort that the organization has made to use non lethal means.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services are currently reviewing the request of the Sacramento International Airport.

Sacramento airport officials are working with local organizations to make sure their practices are fair and pleasing to everyone involved.

“Our concern is that they don’t take birds by lethal means immediately,” said Captain Mark Lucero with the Department of Fish and Game. “We want to make sure they have first employed their hazing techniques.”

If the airport does need to use lethal means, Department Fish and Game officials hope that these incidents are documented, Lucero said. The DFG would like to be able to monitor and analyze the trends of when the airport needs to employ lethal means against birds.

“When they say there is an imminent threat, what constitutes that threat?” he said.

The DFG is aware that with the safety of airline passengers at stake, they must look at every alternative.

“We’re dealing with a public safety situation here – so we have to look at what is reasonable,” Lucero said. “[Airport staff] are currently doing a lot of things proactively from a wildlife management approach.”

CAITLIN COBB can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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