Animals on runways worry new airport chief

Animals on runways worry new airport chief

RANTOUL — Airplanes and wildlife don't mix — especially large animals.

Rune Duke, Rantoul's newly named airport manager, is concerned about the number of animals that have been seen on the runways.

Canada geese, seven deer, a coyote and a red fox are among the ones Duke has seen. And that doesn't take into account the number of other birds, which Duke said totals "double digits most days."

The animals are frequenting the airport because it has become a place to find food, water and shelter, and they regularly cross the runways.

It's not a new phenomenon, but Duke says "there has been a decrease in mitigation measures the past few years, which is why the airport currently has a large number of creatures that appear established."

He said wildlife management needs to be a constant effort in order to be effective.

More fencing would help, Duke said, noting that about 80 percent of the facility has it.

"Additional fence work has been proposed to the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration, but funding has thus far not been available," Duke said.

Total cost to complete the fencing has been placed at $287,000. The village would be required to contribute $14,000 of it, Duke said.

In the past, measures to control the wildlife population have included removing trees and other areas that provide concealment.

"The mowing of the grass to a certain height also assists with reducing the concealment for prey and predators," Duke said. "The airport has received depredation permits in the past, including in 2002, 2005 and 2009. These permits were for taking pigeons, Canada geese, blackbirds and deer."

In many cases, he said, non-lethal measures such as using repellents "must be accompanied by limited lethal measures for reinforcement purposes."

Duke said University of Illinois officials have been invited to conduct a site visit.

"They are already consulting with the airport regarding future mitigation measures," Duke said. "The USDA has also been contacted to assist with the procedures that will be implemented.

"Lethal measures will be used as a last report," Duke said. "However, the size of the geese and the deer make them exceptionally dangerous, and the airport will have a zero-tolerance policy moving forward."

He said airport officials are also looking at different organizations that may help with the relocation of the deer.

Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit rantoulpress.com.

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