Grouse group wants meetings open
Biologists, advocates want to listen as FAA, airport, park gather to consider bird strikes.
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
October 31, 2012
Members of a sage grouse study group are requesting that the National Park Service open the doors to planning meetings for Jackson Hole Airport’s wildlife hazard study.
During a Tuesday meeting at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s regional office on North Cache Street, the Upper Snake River Basin Sage-Grouse Working Group resolved to draft a letter
The airport’s “wildlife hazard management plan,” required by the Federal Aviation Administration, will be up for discussion in a closed-door meeting set for Nov. 27. The plan will address mitigation — such as hazing, killing and altering habitat — to reduce the number of bird strikes at the airport.
Between 1994 and July 2012, 29 of the 59 recorded strikes at the airport involved sage grouse. The candidate for Endangered Species Act protection figures to be central to the plan.
The working group was formed in 2004 as part of a statewide Game and Fish initiative. Its purpose is to “design projects that benefit sage grouse and other sagebrush obligate species and to implement on-the-ground habitat- and population-related projects for the species,” according to a 2007 Upper Snake River Basin conservation plan.
Jackson Hole Airport’s 533-acre lease occupies and is surrounded by some of the best grouse habitat in Jackson Hole, group representative Joe Bohne said.
“The working group is interested in participating in the discussion,” Bohne, a biologist, said of the airport’s wildlife planning meetings.
“I don’t know what their plan is, and I don’t know how they’re going to attack it.
“I didn’t even know that they were having this meeting,” he added.
A discussion about the airport’s “wildlife hazard assessment,” a precursor to the larger, $200,000 plan, was on the working group’s agenda Tuesday. Park Service and airport representatives did not show up.
Members of the working group voiced frustration and joked about the park and airport’s “secret meeting” and how they didn’t know the “double-secret handshake” that might get them access.
In the past, the group has worked with airport officials on issues and developments that affect grouse, said Armond Acri, the group’s chairman.
“For instance, when they did the glycol pad, they brought in a proposal and talked with us,” said Acri, who also is executive director of Save Historic Jackson Hole.
In drafting its wildlife hazard management plan, Jackson Hole Airport will use a steering committee and a larger working group. None of the members of the sage grouse working group are also members of the airport working group except for Airport Director Ray Bishop, Acri said.
Although he did not appear at Tuesdays meeting, in a phone interview Bishop disputed statements made by working group members.
“I already asked Joe Bohne to join, and he told me no,” Bishop said. “And I asked [working group member] Tom Christiansen, and he told me no, too.”
Craighead Beringia South biologist Bryan Bedrosian was also a member of both working groups, Bishop said. Bedrosian, however, didn’t see it that way.
“I’m not an official member of the working group,” he said.
Bishop wouldn’t say if the airport was considering opening its Nov. 27 meeting.
“Our first meeting, we’re going to talk about how many of those will be public,” he said. “We’ve got six meetings total. ... I‘m hoping that a good portion of those will be public meetings.”
The first few meetings are “going to be just a lot of data collection,” he said.
Environmental groups like the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and National Parks Conservation Association are requesting an open-door policy.
“I would like the airport to adopt a more transparent process,” said Sharon Mader, Grand Teton program manager for the conservation association. “There always seems to be a disconnect between the location of the airport and how it’s managed.”
Mader also called for the airport board to bring on a member “with more wildlife expertise.”
After a 10-year run, Jackson Hole Airport Board Chairman Jack Larimer gives up his seat in February, he said.
“It’s critical that the airport board and manager understand that they are operating on land owned by the National Park Service and the American people,” Mader said.