By Cameron Rasmusson
If you’ve ever hit a deer with your car, you know the damage those jittery critters can inflict on a vehicle. Now multiply that by 100, and you’ll have an idea of the destruction they can cause to an airplane.
Sure enough, roving herds of deer are probably the single most dangerous element at Sandpoint Airport. In November 2014, the Sandpoint City Council approved an experiment to reduce the risk by allowing archery hunting on the premises. This week, they renewed that initiative, clearing airport manager Dave Schuck to oversee archery hunts and trapping operations at the airport.
For Schuck, the deer problem is nothing less than a matter of life and death. There have been several instances where aircraft landing or taking off have nearly collided with animals running across the runway. In one instance, a collision resulted in a wreck so severe, it was amazing that the pilot walked away.
“Airplanes are incredibly vulnerable when they’re taking off or landing,” Schuck said.
Eventually, the Federal Aviation Administration will fix the problem permanently by funding the construction of a 10-foot-tall perimeter fence around the airport. However, due to the cost of the project, that’s not in the cards until 2019. On top of that, Schuck said the airport’s projected growth necessitates the purchase of adjacent properties, which must occur before the fence is installed.
Until then, the hunting and trapping program is something of a band-aid approach. With a longer season this year—Schuck aims to kick things off in September rather than November—airport officials are hopeful the herd will thin out enough to reduce risk. The longer season will also stretch out daylight hours in early autumn for the Sandpoint Archery Club, which usually conducts the hunts.
Council members cleared airport officials to use compound bows and traps in the wildlife management program but shut out the use of crossbows or small firearms. Councilwoman Shannon Williamson was against the approach altogether, saying last year’s hunt wasn’t successful enough from her perspective.
“I don’t think that method was effective, and I definitely don’t feel comfortable with authorizing longer-range weapons,” she said. “I’m more comfortable with a trap-and-release program.”
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