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 has produced a DEN specific, and 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, using tools such as sirens and pyrotechnics, to ensure that wildlife incidents are mitigated using non-lethal methods and technologies whenever possible and practical. Additional methods, including trapping, relocation, and lethal removal are also employed when necessary to protect aircraft and human safety.
- 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.
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 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 reports of birds and other wildlife hazards to pilots and flight crews
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:
In 2017, birds made up 95% of all reported wildlife strikes on an aircraft in the U.S.
82% of all wildlife strikes in the U.S. occur within 1,500’ of the runway surface, or within the airport environment
USDA provided assistance with wildlife hazards at 890 civil and military airports nationwide in 2017
From 1990 – 2017, wildlife strikes in the U.S. have cost the aviation industry 1,032,613 hours of reported aircraft downtime, and >$765 million in monetary losses (i.e., cost of repairs to aircraft, loss revenue for downtime, and passenger-care/accommodations)
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 federal permits for trapping, banding and relocating birds of prey species, maintains multiple 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 from DEN in mid-2014 continues to be tracked via GPS
- 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 the FAA tower of impending wildlife hazards and 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) that pose a damage risk to aircraft if struck. 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 have the potential to attract wildlife. DEN works with the USDA to identify areas for mitigation to reduce wildlife attractants on the airfield. In addition, the WHMP is updated with 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.