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Deer management efforts focus on airport

      Some new deer management approaches (techniques) are being employed near the Sparta-Fort McCoy Airport to help avoid close encounters of an unwanted kind between animal and aircraft.

      Kim Mello, installation wildlife biologist, said pilots from Company B of the 6th Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, a U.S. Army Reserve unit stationed at the airport reported a number of near misses with deer during takeoffs and landings from the December to April time frame.

      "Overall, the area around the airfield has a lot of good habitat that attracts deer," Mello said. "In addition, the mowed grass around the runways stays green longer in the fall and depending on snow cover, greens up earlier in the spring than the native vegetation in the area."  

      Mello said the problem also likely was compounded because not enough deer were taken in the areas north and south of the airport during hunting seasons between 1998-2001.  Only 11 deer were harvested by archery hunters and 19 by gun/deer hunters during that time period.   That averages less than eight deer a year.

"The deer are big enough to do significant damage to the landing gear (in a collision), which would affect the structural integrity of the planes."

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Bryan Wood,
 Company B, 6th Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment


      Chief Warrant Officer 4 Bryan Wood, a pilot with Company B, 6th, 52nd, said the encounters with deer happened because deer were grazing very close to the airport runways.  He noted pilots had counted as many as 30 deer in the open areas near the airport and runways.

      "When you come up on them in the aircraft, they bolt and run, and you don't know which way they're going to run," Wood said. "The deer are big enough to do significant damage to the landing gear (in a collision), which would affect the structural integrity of the planes (C-12R turboprop twin engine)."

      In response, immediate action was taken by first contacting Fort McCoy archery hunters toward the end of the archery season to see if they could focus their efforts in the airfield area, Mello said.  Unfortunately, no deer were taken. 

      When the archery season ended, the installation coordinated with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for permits to shoot deer.  In March and April,  pilots reported more problems with more near misses between deer and aircraft.  From January through April, a total of 10 deer were shot, Mello said.

      Wood noted that the shootings reduced the number of deer, but it didn't eliminate the problem. Deer remained in the area as long as the grass was green, which was helped by the mild winter conditions.  Surveys were conducted in March and April to get an idea of the deer movement patterns. Mello said this information was used to plan special hunts for this fall.

      A special archery hunt option was designed using input from a special committee for a fair way to randomly select participants who had Fort McCoy Cantonment Archery Bonus Tags, he said.  Mello said the special archery hunts in this area will begin Sept. 20.  Hunting periods will be from three or four days to a week.  Informational/safety meetings will be held before the hunts to ensure that archery hunters understand the special precautions they need to observe, he said.

      Some of the area also will be open to participants in the disabled hunt on Oct. 5-6.

       "Depending on the number of deer harvested from these hunts, we may take follow-up actions,  which may include having special shotgun/muzzle-loader hunts in the area," Mello said.

      Data from the special hunts and follow-up surveys also will be used to develop deer management strategies for the future in these areas, Mello said.

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