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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
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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Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 8/25/98