Wildlife Hazard Management Program at Denver International Airport
Colorado is known around the world for its robust wildlife and natural beauty. But animals and aircraft don’t mix, which is why Denver International Airport (DEN) incorporates a comprehensive wildlife hazard management plan that focuses on protecting the safe operation of more than 565,000 aircraft movements every year.
About the Plan
The airport’s wildlife hazard management program is conducted under the guidance of an FAA-approved Wildlife Hazard Management Plan (WHMP), which provides airport personnel and wildlife professionals guidance in making responsible recommendations and decisions.
- The FAA mandates all certificated airports conduct a Wildlife Hazard Assessment, which includes an analysis of wildlife attractants within 10,000 feet and a 5-mile radius of the airport.
- The WHMP at DEN places a strong emphasis on “harassment and hazing” of wildlife to ensure that wildlife incidents are mitigated using non-lethal methods and technologies whenever possible and practical.
- DEN manages habitat to the extent possible to minimize the attraction for wildlife, including filling in ponds and water sources where necessary, and vegetation management activities.
- Wildlife professionals and DEN Operations personnel rely on wildlife harassment tools to mitigate wildlife hazards. These include the use of sirens, wildlife patrols, pyrotechnics, trapping and removing, and lethal removal when necessary to protect aircraft.
DEN partners with USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services, which provides full-time staff to conduct wildlife damage management at the airport year round. DEN and the USDA share a common goal of protecting aviation and public safety by ensuring runways and roadways are clear of potential wildlife hazards for the safety of the traveling public.
DEN partnership efforts include:
- DEN Operations personnel receive required annual training on wildlife hazard management and mitigation techniques to provide a more integrated approach with USDA
- The FAA sets guidelines that DEN and USDA adhere to regarding wildlife management standards and reporting of wildlife activity on and around the airport
- FAA controllers also play an important role in managing wildlife by relaying pilot reports of birds and other wildlife hazards ground crews and pilots
Since 1990, the FAA has maintained a searchable database of voluntary bird strike reports, which is managed by the Wildlife Services Program of the USDA through an interagency agreement with the FAA. According to FAA data:
- Birds make up 97 percent of all reported wildlife strikes on an aircraft
- The reported costs for civil aircraft wildlife strikes from 1990-2012 totaled $639 million
- The annual cost of wildlife strikes to the civil aviation industry in 2015 was projected to be a minimum of 69,497 hours of aircraft downtime and $229 million in direct and other monetary losses
While the number of strikes is not indicative of the success or failure of an airport’s wildlife management program, since bird activity can be influenced by an airport’s size, strike reporting awareness, geographic location, migratory patterns, species and other factors, reporting is key. In 2014, DEN was one of five finalists for the FAA’s inaugural Strike Reporting Excellence Award for its robust reporting program.
Bird strike management at DEN includes:
- The USDA, which has a federal banding permit for trapping, banding and relocation of birds of prey species, maintains multiple predatory bird live catch traps that are strategically placed throughout the airfield to humanely trap and relocate large birds of prey. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with the USDA and DEN to track certain species that are relocated from the airport. A Golden eagle that was relocated in mid-2014 continues to be tracked via GPS in the Laramie, Wyoming area
- While there is no “bird season” at DEN, the airport has seasonal bird cycles. In the spring and summer, juvenile birds are flying about, learning to hunt and survive. In the fall, hawks are looking for rodents in the open spaces. In the winter, migrating geese tend to flock together by the thousands along Colorado’s front range
Some airports in the United States utilize avian radar systems. While DEN has previously evaluated avian radar, technology is still improving and is not yet a fit for DEN’s specific criteria, although it may in the future. Currently, USDA personnel monitor wildlife activity and collect data through GIS technology, which illustrates historical trends similar to that of radar. By conducting multiple avian and mammal surveys, the USDA and can immediately detect and notify tower or airport operations personnel of the impending threat who, in turn, can immediately work to alleviate the threat posed to aircraft.
Although rabbits and prairie dogs do not pose an immediate threat to aircraft, they attract numerous predators including hawks, owls, and coyotes which are frequently struck by aircraft. The USDA manages rodents and other prey-base species to prevent them from attracting larger wildlife that could post a threat.
DEN is located on 53 square miles of property that includes agriculture practices, vegetation, structures and drainage that may attract wildlife. DEN works with the USDA to identify areas for mitigation to help prevent attracting wildlife to the airfield. In addition, the WHMP provides updates and priorities for habitat management and recommendations each year.
Habitat management at DEN includes:
- DEN operates 17 large mowers that cut vegetation throughout the property, as weather and topography permits, to reduce available habitat for wildlife species like blackbirds, coyotes and rabbits. DEN spends more than an estimated 11,000 hours on annual mowing activities
- In 2009 and 2015, DEN constructed concrete trickle channels to improve water drainage and remove cattails near taxiways and runways. Since the improvements, wildlife strike incidents and activity have been reduced in those areas and wildlife activity will continue to be monitored
Sources: Available upon request.