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It's a Bird, It's a Plane ...
It's Trouble on the Runway
A poster in Jessica Dewey's office poses the question, "When does a goose become an elephant?" Though it sounds like a riddle, the answer -- when an airplane hurtles into it -- is no laughing matter for the fowl or the Federal Aviation Administration. It's Dewey's job as a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help keep two Virginia airports' runways and airways clear of geese, deer, and other mammals, so planes can land and take off safely.
   Her task is more difficult than it sounds, because airports, typically built in areas away from human populations, are consequently very enticing to wildlife, offering them food, water, and shelter: "Hangars provide a place for pigeons to roost, there are shrub areas where a fox could put a den, and there are ditches where a duck could nest," explains Dewey, C'92, G'93. An abundance of insects and fish -- and trash -- round out the attractions.
   Wildlife strikes -- which refer to when a bird or other mammal is struck by a plane or sucked into a jet engine -- occur once in every 10,000 aircraft movements. And though the impact is rarely sufficient to down a plane, it is often strong enough to dent fan blades and damage fuselages.
   So Dewey, who earned her bachelor's degree in the biological basis of behavior and her master's degree in conservation biology, advises Dulles International and Ronald Reagan National airports on how to prevent these problems through techniques ranging from the use of propane cannons or fireworks to temporarily scare away large flocks of gulls, to longer-term habitat management -- say, changing the grass height or covering up ditches.
   Wildlife management at airports has outraged some animal-rights groups -- a conflict that has not escaped Dewey's attention. "But I wouldn't be involved in this profession if I didn't love animals," she says. "It's better for me to help move Canadian geese out of harm's way than for them to get sucked into an engine. I look at what I do as benefiting both people and wildlife."
       
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