I-Team: Wildlife control at T.F. Green
WARWICK, R.I. —
It's a busy morning at T.F. Green Airport.
Planes are taxiing, taking off and landing.
Amid heightened security inside, there's a program underway outside you may not know about, meant to keep you safe.
Wildlife control -- scaring birds and animals away, moving them, or in some cases, killing them.
The NBC 10 I-Team dug through the airport's data.
It found more than 3,300 birds and animals were killed at T.F. Green over the past five years, including 62 skunks, 21 squirrels, 18 coyotes and more than 3,200 birds.
But many more animals were simply scared off or moved, more than 130,000 since 2009.
"We look at everything and try to use every tool to keep animals off our airports," said Jim Bender who works with the USDA as a wildlife biologist.
That includes blasts from noise cannons, sirens and even fireworks.
But what happens when loud noises aren't enough?
"Airports are a very noisy environment and they get very comfortable here. So yes, we do lethally remove a select few species," Bender said.
The kills are legal and heavily regulated by the state and federal government permits.
Overall, less than 2 percent of animals sighted at the Warwick airport were killed over the last five years.
Part of the challenge is the geography of airports like T.F. Green. Wide open spaces, surrounded by urban and suburban areas are the perfect place for birds and animals to feed or nest.
In 2009, pilot Sully Sullenberger ditched his plane after a flock of Canada geese took out the plane's engines. Everyone on board survived.
The deadliest bird strike in U.S. history was in New England, when Eastern Airlines flight 375 from Boston's Logan Airport struck a flock of starlings immediately after takeoff in 1960. The plane crashed into the bay, killing 62 of 72 people on board.
"The threat is that either a bird or a mammal is going to cause damage to the aircraft, putting people's lives, human health and safety, a lot of money in danger," Bender said.
Bender said Rhode Island's airports don't use poison, instead shooting or trapping animals on a case-by-case basis.
"Lethal removal is kind of the last option," he said.
The I-Team asked Audubon Society president Larry Taft to take a closer look at the numbers in Rhode Island.
"I don't know if it's so much a bird flying into a plane, as the plane flying into the bird," Taft said.
Taft said the program at T-F Green is well run, with most wildlife safely scared away.
But he worries a handful of the birds killed aren't often seen in the state, and should be protected if possible.
"Upland sandpiper is a rather striking example. A few of those were taken. That's a rather rare bird. Not so rare that it's on the national endangered species list, but very rare in Rhode Island," Taft said.
Bender said it's a balance between protecting wildlife, and protecting passengers.
"We're keeping the people safe. We're keeping our resources safe. We're keeping the animals safe," he said.