Airport attempts to keep deer outGetting a deer to walk out a gate is a science, according to Mitchell Municipal Airport Manager Mike Scherschligt.
By: Seth Tupper The Daily Republic, Worthington Daily Globe
Getting a deer to walk out a gate is a science, according to Mitchell Municipal Airport Manager Mike Scherschligt.
He’s become an expert in the practice, because deer sometimes get into the airport despite the presence of a 10-foot-tall wildlife fence. Getting them to leave is actually easier than it sounds, he said, although “the subtlest mistake can blow it.”
If a deer gets spooked, the likelihood that it will leave via a gate declines dramatically. Instead, it will likely have to be shot in order to avoid a deer-plane collision, which is a rare but real threat. About 650 such incidents were reported to the Federal Aviation Administration from 1990 to 2004.
If a deer has to be shot at the local airport, a special permit from the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks is acquired and the meat is donated to the Salvation Army.
“But we’re not in the business of just shooting the heck out of everything out here,” Scherschligt said. “That’s not the idea.”
That’s why Scherschligt said he’s always on the lookout for new tools and techniques. At a recent Airport Board meeting, he shared some of the newest ideas from around the country: one-way gates and earthen jump ramps on the inside of fences.
The one-way gates, which allow deer to go out but not in, have been tested in various applications along roadways and airports, he said, with mixed results. Results are similarly inconclusive with the jump ramps, which give deer a boost toward jumping out of an enclosed area.
Both techniques are inexpensive, though, and Scherschligt said he will continue researching them.
Last year, only one deer was removed from the airport. It was unclear how the deer got past the wildlife fence — there might have been a small opening in the fence, or the deer might have simply jumped the 10 feet. Scherschligt said wildlife studies indicate that deer can sometimes jump 12-foot-tall obstructions, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture rates some whitetail deer as capable of jumping 15 feet.
In the recent past, the biggest deer problem at the Mitchell airport occurred after a vicious ice storm in 2005 knocked down fencing, allowing numerous deer to enter the airport grounds.
When Scherschligt spots a deer or a group of them, he follows a standard protocol.
“You locate them, and you get around and open the gate, and you just stay about a half-mile behind them,” Scherschligt said, “and you just watch them with binoculars and you let them get walking along the fence.
“At that point, once they start walking and following the fence, they’ll typically keep following it until they get into trees. So if you have a gate that’s between you and the trees, and they’re walking that fence, you can just sit back and you’ve got a fair chance that they’ll walk by that opening and go out. And once one of them goes, they’ll all go.”
Scherschligt said the number of deer that get into the Mitchell airport is not unusually high, but it’s nevertheless important to stay on top of the situation. That’s affirmed by an FAA statement on “Deer Hazard Mitigation.”
“There is little doubt that the rapidly increasing deer populations represent a serious threat to both general aviation and commercial aircraft,” the statement says, in part. “It is currently estimated that there are over 26 million deer in the United States. Because of increasing urbanization and rapidly expanding deer populations, deer are adapting to human environments, especially around airports, where they often find food and shelter.”