OWLS HEAD, Maine — Wild turkeys have been viewed as such a threat at the Knox County Regional Airport that options considered have included a hunt on airport lands, an effort to snare and relocate the large birds, and construction of a 10-foot-high fence around the runways.
Local officials have opted to try snaring and relocating first, so the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has started setting up traps and placing corn around them in preparation.
The traps soon will be set up to fire nets over the turkeys once the animals are found to be comfortable taking the bait, said airport manager Jeffrey Northgraves.
Last month, the Board of Selectmen in neighboring Thomaston gave its unanimous approval to allow the airport to release wild turkeys that are caught at the airport in the 350-acre town forest off Beechwood Street.
Since then, however, further discussions have been held with a wildlife biologist with DIF&W and a decision has been made to forgo releasing them in Thomaston. Northgraves said that the wildlife biologist felt that Thomaston was too close and that the turkeys could find their way back to the airport.
Instead, the turkeys will be taken to a more distant location and released, though Northgraves said he was not sure where.
Last fall, there were discussions about having a limited turkey hunt to thin the flocks, he said.
“But in the end, I was not comfortable with people with guns around the airport,” Northgraves said.
A study was commissioned by the airport two years ago about the threat of wildlife to aircraft at the airport, which encompasses 538 acres in Owls Head and South Thomaston. The study was completed last year and found that wild turkeys, deer and coyotes posed a threat although there had been no instances yet of airplanes striking turkey or deer. Northgraves said a coyote carcass was found a few years ago and it is believed it had been struck by a plane.
Wild turkeys can fly but generally do not unless absolutely necessary, he said. The threat is that they will be struck by planes on the runway, not in the air, he said. Deer and coyotes pose the same threat, the airport manager added.
The male turkeys can grow to be more than 3 feet tall, he said.
There are two flocks of turkeys at the airport, he said, each with 15 to 20 birds.
In addition to catching the turkeys and relocating them, Northgraves said the county is working with the FAA on plans to build a fence around the runways. The latest plan includes a 10-foot-high fence that would be capped with three strands of barbed wire. He said the county is still in talks with the FAA on the specific type of fence. He said he had no cost estimate yet on the project.
The fence may be erected next year. He said that it would be located closer to the runways and not on the perimeter of the airport property so that it will not be as visible from adjoining properties.
Northgraves said turkeys could fly over the 10-foot fence but that they often are not smart enough to do so.
“They tend to try to run through fences rather than flying over them,” the airport manager said.