Knox County eyes salt licks, Scouts, Lions to rid airport of deer

Posted May 07, 2014, at 11:10 a.m.
Last modified May 07, 2014, at 2:57 p.m.

OWLS HEAD, Maine — Knox County will use salt licks and, if that doesn’t work, call out the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and members of the local Lions club in an effort to get rid of a herd of deer that have gotten onto airport property.

The deer wandered onto airport grounds when an unlocked gate on a newly installed $892,000 perimeter fence blew open in the wind last month, according to Knox County Regional Airport Manager Jeff Northgraves. Ten thousand feet of fence has been installed to prevent deer, turkeys and turkey buzzards from getting onto the runways and posing a threat to airplanes that are landing or taking off.

While installation of the fence was completed earlier this year, the locking mechanisms are not yet on the gates.

Northgraves said the fence did prevent wildlife from getting on the airport grounds during the winter. He said that when he walked around the perimeter during the winter he found deer tracks on the outside of the fence but none inside.

The chain-link fence is 10 feet high in most places. When asked why the turkeys would not just fly over it, Northgraves said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture contends that turkeys are so stupid that if they can see through a fence they will try to get through and not try to fly over it. He said if the turkeys are kept off the airport grounds, the turkey buzzards will not be in the area either.

Then on April 3, one gate on the Ash Point side of the airport near the woods was found to have blown open in the wind. Immediately afterward, airport crew spotted six deer on the airport property. The airport property encompasses 538 acres, although the amount of property fenced in is less, surrounding only the runways, taxiways and parking area for aircraft.

Northgraves said he will first attempt to remove the deer by placing outside the gate blocks of salt, which typically draw deer from miles around for a taste. This will be attempted in late May or early June after the locking mechanisms on the gates have been installed and are operating.

If that doesn’t work, he said he has arranged for the South Thomaston/Rockland Lions Club to oversee both local Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, who would go track down the deer and form a human chain to try to drive the animals toward the gate and off the property. More than 60 people already have committed to participate in that effort, Northgraves said.

Five near collisions between wildlife and airplanes in 2012 led to the decision to proceed with the fence project.

The Federal Aviation Administration is paying for 90 percent of the costs and the state and county will each pay 5 percent. The fence project also involves the contractor removing an old fence, placing material under the new fence to prevent animals from digging under it, and installing signs, the airport manager said.

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