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Airport grouse plan to face public review
Strategy to separate birds from planes will get environmental review.
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: December 12, 2012
A plan to reduce bird strikes at Jackson Hole Airport is unfolding behind closed doors, but will culminate in an environmental analysis that includes the public, airport officials say.
The airport’s “wildlife hazard management plan,” required by the Federal Aviation Administration, will be finalized over the next six to eight months. After it’s completed and released, it will be subject to National Environmental Policy Act analysis open to public comment, Jackson Hole Airport Director Ray Bishop said Monday.
“Any actions that would come out of the study would require a NEPA study,” Bishop said. “There are a lot of questions,” he said, including whether the study would be conducted by the Department of Transportation or a Department of the Interior.
It’s unclear if the analysis will be an environmental assessment or a more thorough environmental impact statement, Bishop said.
In recent months, groups including the National Parks Conservation Association and Upper Snake River Basin Sage-Grouse Working Group have called for the airport to open doors to its wildlife hazard management plan meetings. The airport is working with Grand Teton National Park and the FAA on the issue and has rejected the requests.
The Jackson Hole Airport is the nation’s only commercial airport in a national park.
An earlier study commissioned by the airport recommended hazing, killing and altering habitat to keep sage grouse away from the runway. About half of the 60 recorded strikes at the airport since 1994 have involved sage grouse, a candidate species for Endangered Species Act protection. Airport officials have since distanced themselves from that document.
That the new plan would require federal analysis “was one of the outcomes” of the Nov. 27 meeting of the airport’s sage grouse working group, Bishop said.
The airport is considering trying to relocate a sage grouse breeding ground, called a lek, to draw birds away from the runway’s north end, Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist Joe Bohne said. He is a member of the working group and said questions loom.
“Can you move the lek?” he asked. “Removing the sage grouse isn’t one of the options that would go over very well with anybody.”
The airport lek has had 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.”
At the group’s meeting last week, Bohne said the Federal Aviation Committee seeks to completely eliminate all bird strikes. Planes hit three grouse in August, Bohne said.
“That’s their standard — it’s zero percent risk,” he said. “Realistically, what do you do about that?”
Bishop was confident that members of a working group devised to help Mead & Hunt, a consulting group, draft a plan would do a sound job.
“I think this is really interesting from an academic point of view,” Bishop said. “Has anybody really successfully mitigated sage grouse? The answer is no.”