Hunters may have never thought of an airport as prime hunting land, but now hundreds of thousands of Canada geese flock to America’s airports every year. Despite using a combination of fireworks, loudspeakers, and sometimes even trapping to deter the birds, airport officials find that their geese problem is escalating. According to the Associated Press, one airport in South Dakota may soon be able to call in hunters.
Officials from the Rapid City Regional Airport recently asked South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks to consider a special geese hunting season for the area around the airport. The wide, open lands next to many airports make good habitat for the birds. Rapid City’s airport is itself surrounded by fertile farmland. multiple small lakes, and the Rapid City water plant. This makes the airport an irresistible hotspot for the birds during their seasonal migrations.
“We’re talking thousands of geese coming into the area over the past several probably years,” airport deputy director Pete Girtz told The Rapid City Journal. “It used to be flocks of hundreds, now it’s hundreds to thousands of birds coming across.”
Rapid City is not the only airport to see a large increase of Canada geese in recent years. According to conservation groups such as Ducks Unlimited, the number of geese has skyrocketed since 2007. This population boom comes after a dramatic decline in the 1980s and 1990s, and now Canada geese are so prevalent in some areas that they have become problematic. This is especially true for airports where the birds present a safety hazard. The Federal Aviation Administration recorded 11,000 wildlife strikes at 650 airports in 2013. While the vast majority of these accidents do no harm to the aircraft or its passengers, the large birds could prove dangerous if they strike a plane’s engines.
In 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 was forced to take an emergency landing in the Hudson River after the plane struck a flock of Canada geese during its initial climb. Fortunately, none of the plane’s occupants were seriously injured during the water landing. The incident was dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson,” and continues to serve as a reminder of how birds can be a safety hazard in the nation’s airports. In the aftermath of Flight 1549’s unscheduled landing, New York wildlife officials removed over a thousand Canada geese from popular roosting spots in the following months.
South Dakota wildlife officials are considering changing regulations to allow more hunters on the land near the Rapid City airport, although no decision has been made. It is likely that the proposal will go before public comment over the summer.