full story, more photos:
Christina Jones, assistant director of the South Bay Wildlife
Rehab, a nonprofit volunteer organization that cares for
California-native wildlife, attempts to handle a hawk caught in a
trap at the Long Beach Airport's airfield. United States Department
of Agriculture wildlife biologists will be assisting in banding and
relocating birds as part of new federal requirements.
The Long Beach Airport has entered into a contract with the
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services
Division to develop a "more formal" program of capturing and
relocating wildlife, particularly birds, from the airport. Such
measures are taken to prevent collisions between birds and aircraft,
incidents referred to as "wildlife strikes."
The Long Beach
City Council at its Nov. 13 meeting unanimously approved a $40,000,
one-year-contract with the USDA, which has revised its requirements
for all airports to "band birds that are captured and relocated" for
tracking and scientific purposes, procedures that require "special
federal permits," according to airport staff. The Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) also requires that the airport complete a
wildlife hazard assessment.
The new contract calls for the
USDA's wildlife biologists to work with the airport on a part-time
basis to assist in banding and relocating large birds to a more
conducive environment, provide technical assistance to airport
staff, help prepare the airport's permit report, conduct wildlife
monitoring surveys, and aid in developing the airport's wildlife
hazard mitigation plan.
Wildlife strikes have become an
increasing safety hazard at airports nationwide. The threat gained
major attention in 2009, when Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger
landed a US Airways airliner in the Hudson River after the plane hit
a flock of Canada geese upon taking off from the LaGuardia Airport
in New York. More recently, the Air Force Two, carrying Vice
President Joe Biden, sustained a wildlife strike earlier this year
when the plane was approaching Santa Barbara Municipal Airport.
Nationally, FAA statistics show that wildlife strikes have
increased five-fold, rising from 1,770 reported in 1990 to 9,840
reported last year. Such strikes have resulted in at least 24 deaths
and 235 injuries in the United States, while causing nearly $625
million in damage per year, according to the FAA.
The rise in
wildlife strikes can be attributed to larger wildlife populations
that have increased safety risk and the need for more substantive
mitigation programs, according to airport officials, who said Long
Beach Airport, located close to wetlands habitats and migratory-bird
paths, is not immune to the threat.
Earlier this year, for
instance, a bird was caught in a corporate jet, causing thousands of
dollars in damages to the airplane, said airport officials, who
added that the most migrant birds land at the airport during fall
and winter months.
"[Relocating wildlife from the airport]
actually saves the wildlife and secures aircraft on the airfield,"
said Mario Rodriguez, director of Long Beach Airport, during the
City Council meeting. "It doesn't hurt the animals, and it makes
sure that � everybody on the airfield [is] safe." He said both Los
Angeles International (LAX) and John Wayne airports have already
hired the USDA to assist in their wildlife mitigation programs.
New federal requirements come after Jeffrey B. Guzzetti, assistant
inspector general for aviation for the US Department of
Transportation, released a report in August that the FAA's oversight
and enforcement activities are "not sufficient to ensure airports
fully adhere to program requirements or effectively implement their
wildlife hazard management plans." The report adds that airport
officials contacted in a study stated that they "did not report all
known strikes to the database because it was not a requirement." In
recent years, the Long Beach Airport has partnered with the South
Bay Wildlife Rehab, a nonprofit volunteer operation based in Palos
Verdes that has assisted in relocating mostly raptors, also known as
"birds of prey," such as hawks and owls. The birds are caught on the
airfield in traps built by Boy Scouts and are then taken by the
volunteers to habitats at least 200 miles away. The airport also
uses "pyrotechnics" to "haze" birds from the runway, a method used
by all airports under the FAA to "scare away unwanted birds,"
according to a statement from airport officials.
executive director of the South Bay Wildlife Rehab, said volunteers
have retrieved 95 birds from Long Beach since June 2011. This year
alone, 64 birds were caught so far at the airfield, according to
State and federal regulations prohibit the
shooting or harming of certain native, protected species, including
Cooper's hawks, red-tail hawks and barn owls, which Lynch said are
most common in Long Beach. But she said protections don't cover
starlings and pigeons.
Although state- and federally protected birds are safely released
elsewhere, relocating them out of their natural habitats isn't
always ideal, Lynch added. "We're saving the birds, but it's got to
be hard on a bird to be ripped out of its territory and possibly a
mate and sent a long ways away," she said.
One way to deter
birds from the airport is to rid the airfield of small animals that
the birds prey on, such as rodents, including gophers and ground
squirrels, she said.
Lynch also noted, however, that even
eradicating prey animals doesn't entirely stop the problem. "You can
do the best you can of getting rid of all of the birds and all of
the prey items that hopefully will cut down on [the amount] of
birds, but it's never going to be fool-proof," she said.