Plan Has Jets, Birds Sharing Air

Plan Has Jets, Birds Sharing Air
May 18th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Plan Has Jets, Birds Sharing Air

Plan Has Jets, Birds Sharing Air
USA Today
May 18, 2007
Pg. 3

House vote is 1st strike against Navy landing strip near refuge
By Traci Watson, USA Today

What's the best place for a landing strip where Navy pilots can practice touching down their jets?
The Navy says it's next to North Carolina's Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, where 100,000 geese and swans pass the winter, filling the skies by the thousands.
Opponents worry the landing strip would threaten a vital sanctuary for waterfowl — as well as endanger pilots, who would use the site to learn how to land their Super Hornet jets on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Howard Phillips, manager of the refuge, says the impact from the jets, the noise they make and changes to the landscape from the strip would be harmful. "We lose another extremely important area for these birds," he says.
The Navy reviewed four other possible sites, but this one offered "the best combination" for the military's operations and the environment, says Ted Brown, spokesman for the U.S. Fleet Forces Command.
The former chief of the Pentagon's Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard team says whatever the site's benefits, eventually a pilot will be killed in a collision with a bird.
"It's not 'if,' it's 'when,' " says Ronald Merritt, a retired Air Force major who's now a consultant on the issue. "There are not too many places in the U.S. that would be as bad as this to build a landing strip."
On Thursday, the House passed a defense bill that would block the Navy from spending any money to build the strip next to the refuge. The site is opposed by North Carolina's two Republican senators, Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr, and the state's House delegation. In February, Gov. Mike Easley, a Democrat, asked his congressional delegation to get their fellow lawmakers to freeze funds for the Navy proposal.
The Navy reiterated in February that the Pocosin Lakes site is its top choice for the landing strip. Since then, the growing political opposition and concerns about the welfare of both pilots and birds have forced Navy planners to consider other sites.
"The Navy is working closely with elected officials. …We're open to suggestions. We're open to new information," Brown says.
The landing strip site is about 150 miles east of Raleigh. It's flat, sparsely populated and mostly farmland, rather than environmentally sensitive wetlands. It's also halfway between Virginia Beach and Cherry Point, N.C., where Navy squads that would use the training site will be based.
Still, the air traffic from birds can't be ignored. Each winter, at least 20,000 tundra swans and 75,000 snow geese swarm to the refuge from the far north. There they feed and rest before returning northward in the spring to breed. The American Bird Conservancy, a leading bird conservation group, has declared the refuge a "globally important bird area."
A flock of snow geese alighting on a green field "makes it look like it's snow-covered," Phillips says. "Then an eagle will fly over and blow them off, and it's a deafening roar as they're all squawking."
The birds flocking to the refuge aren't dainty: Snow geese weigh roughly 7 pounds, and tundra swans can weigh more than 20 pounds and have wingspans of 5½ feet. Merritt describes the possible impact on a Navy jet as coming from a "feathered bomb."
The Navy contends the landing strip could be made safe by tearing out the fields of wheat and corn near the landing-strip site where the birds feed. The birds could also be kept away with noise and dogs or, as a last resort, shot.
Officials at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge, fear that eliminating the birds' winter buffet could drive them away from the refuge. In a formal comment to the Navy, Dale Hall, director of the Fish & Wildlife Service, says the Navy's conclusion that such measures would have a moderate impact is "more definitive than the data can support."
Jeffrey Short, a retired Air Force colonel and expert on bird impacts on aviation, says the Navy can partially reduce the risk that a bird will hit a jet but won't be able to eliminate it completely.
"If you've got hundreds of thousands of birds flying around … you're going to have aircraft flying into them," he says.
Brown says the Navy knew that no matter which of the five candidate sites in North Carolina it selected to build the landing strip, it was bound to attract opposition.
"One of the admirals said early on, 'It's in the middle of nowhere,' " says Michelle Nowlin of the Southern Environmental Law Center, an environmental group. "It might be nowhere for the Navy folks, but it's the center of the universe for a number of different species."

Similar Topics
What should fly in the Iraqi Air Force?
Air Force Floats Multiyear Globemaster Buy To Defense Lawmakers
U.S. Air Force Jets Deploy To Okinawa
US Air Force Loses Out In Iraq War
Chinese military aircraft present situation