Bird strike plan unfolds
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
December 7, 2012
To reduce bird strikes, Jackson Hole Airport officials are considering creating a new sage grouse breeding ground to draw the large birds away from the runway.
The airport’s “wildlife hazard management plan,” required by the Federal Aviation Administration, is currently still on the drawing board. Members of the Upper Snake River Basin Sage-Grouse Working Group involved in crafting the management plan discussed the airport’s strategy, which is far from concrete, at a meeting Thursday.
“Presumably, we’re talking about trying to do something to attract sage grouse,” said Joe Bohne, a working group member and Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist. “Removing the sage grouse isn’t one of the options that would go over very well with anybody.”
About half of the 60 recorded strikes at the airport since 1994 have involved sage grouse. A breeding ground, called a lek, off the runway’s north end draws more than 10 male and 40 female birds each spring, and is the source of most of the problems, Bohne said.
The airport’s earlier “wildlife hazard assessment” recommended hazing, killing and altering habitat to keep sage grouse away from the runway. Airport officials disowned the document after it was re-leased in October, saying they would start from scratch.
Complicating the matter are the birds’ status as candidates for Endangered Species Act protection and the fragile state of the Jackson Hole population.
The valley’s grouse population has held steady in recent years, but just 128 male grouse in the valley’s nine known leks were tallied by working group members and volunteers this year.
“This population, as we define the population, can’t afford to go downhill very far,” Bohne said.
The airport habitat has had its own unique problems.
“We’re dealing with a small lek, and it’s been declining for many years,” Bohne said. “I thought it was going to wink out. It was down to ten males in 2009.”
Moving forward, two members of the sage grouse group will work with a “steering committee” and a larger working group the Jackson Hole Airport devised to help Mead & Hunt, a consulting firm, draft the $200,000 wildlife hazard management plan.
After the plan is drafted, it will be presented to the public.