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Ecological Impacts of Other Transportation Modes
Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Pad Avian Abatement Efforts and Related KSC Roadkill Reduction Effort
- Roland Schlierf, NASA Project Manager, Kennedy Space Center, FL, Phone: 321-867-5827.
- Ron Hight, Refuge Manager, Merritt Island, Titusville, FL, Phone: 321-861-0667.
- Stephen Payne, Shuttle Test Director, Launch and Landing Division, Kennedy Space Center, FL, Phone: 321-861-9322.
- John Shaffer, NASA Environmental Program Branch, Kennedy Space Center, FL, Phone: 321-867-8448.
- Brad Missimer, Manager, Facility Support Services, Space Gateway Support, Kennedy Space Center, FL, Phone: 321-476-3722.
- Christopher (Glenn) Willis, Entomologist, Pest Management / KSC Landfill / Bridge Tenders, Yang Enterprises, Inc., Kennedy Space Center, FL, Phone: 321-861-6290.
While birds might seem harmless, there's a good reason for the concern. During the July 2005 launch of Discovery on mission STS-114, a vulture soaring around the launch pad impacted the shuttle's external tank just after liftoff. With a vulture's average weight ranging from 3 to 5 pounds, a strike at a critical point on the Shuttle — like the nose or wing leading thermal protection panels — could cause catastrophic damage to the vehicle. The foam chunk that fatefully struck Columbia's wing in 2003 weighed only 1.7 pounds. (Cheryl L. Mansfield "Bye Bye Birdies" 2006.) To address this issue, NASA formed an "Avian Abatement Team." The team's goal is to have safer Shuttle missions by reducing the vulture population at KSC near the pad area thereby reducing the probability of another vulture strike during a Shuttle launch. (Linda Herridge "It’s a Jungle Out There" 2006, Photo Courtesy of NASA)
One key strategy is to monitor and understand bird activity at KSC. Existing KSC bird monitoring programs were studied and enhanced by adding biologist bird observations near the launch pads. New radar and video imaging systems were added to electronically monitor and track birds at the pads. These new systems now help the KSC Shuttle launch director determine if it is safe to launch based on bird count and location.
Another key strategy is to reduce the bird population at the launch pads. New sound deterrent systems were evaluated and tested for potential installation at the pads to scare large flying birds away from the pads just before launch. Since it was a vulture that the shuttle struck back in 2005 and since the KSC vulture population is unusually high, a special emphasis was placed on reducing the KSC vulture population. A vulture trap and release program was tested, but results were inconclusive. Vulture experts considered this trapping to be potentially detrimental because the related baiting could attract even more vultures to KSC. NASA abandoned this part of the vulture reduction effort. Other efforts like the use of effigies and chemical repellants also failed. The team consulted with experts at Walt Disney World and the Avon Park Air Force Range, and focused on why the vulture population was so high at KSC in the first place. The answer appears to be an excess road kill food supply.
KSC is overlaid with 140,000 acres of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. This is a good arrangement because both organizations need a lot of remote land. However, this land overlay has significantly contributed to refuge loss of wildlife. Vehicle collisions are the number one killer of Florida’s wildlife and over 12,000 KSC employees must drive through the wildlife refuge to get to work. In the summer of 2006, KSC found that this generates an incredible amount of road kill and excess vulture food supply averaging over 100 dead animals at over 1000 pounds every month. KSC began an effort to prevent and quickly remove road kill. Through attrition, KSC plans to bring their vulture population back to normal levels. KSC began educating their workforce about this problem via e-mails, bulletins, posters, stickers, call-in badge cards, educational/entertaining videos, meetings, road signs, educational outreaches, and a central web site. The workforce appears to be responding strongly because KSC road kill numbers declined sharply in July, but other unknown environmental factors may be contributing. The workforce is also calling in road kill for rapid pickup. For the remainder of the Shuttle Program, a KSC contractor picks up road kill within 2 hours of each call-in during first shift five days a week. The contractor also patrols the roads and picks up road kill for 2 hours every morning independent of call-ins. The contractor marks each road kill with GPS for future analysis and potential roadway wildlife mitigations like dry culverts, wildlife over passes, fencing, or wildlife crossing sign positioning. Wildlife crossing signs have already been specially designed and in April 2007 were strategically placed based on KSC road kill "hot spot" GPS data.
Road kill is something that the Refuge has wanted to reduce for over 40 years. NASA is now clearly on board to help achieve that goal, but NASA ultimately cares about avoiding future Shuttle bird strikes. It will be hard to measure vulture reduction at KSC and overall bird reduction at the pads. However, we have very positive early anecdotal results. Some employees have reported seeing fewer vultures at KSC and seeing more vultures in their neighborhoods. Employees that clean bird mess off the launch pads report it takes them 75% less time to clean the mess, indicating there are likely fewer birds at the pads. The Shuttle has not hit any birds during subsequent launches. The avian abatement team effort appears to be making some long lasting differences toward both Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge mission success and NASA mission success, but only time will tell.
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Quantifying Risk Associated with Potential Bird-Aircraft Collisions
- Laurence Schafer, Airport Coordinator/Staff Wildlife Biologist, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Wildlife Services, Olympia, WA, Phone: 360-753-9884.
- Bradley Blackwell, Research Wildlife Biologist, USDA/APHIS Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center, Ohio Field Station, Sandusky, OH.
- Michael Linnell, Utah State Director for USDA/APHIS Wildlife Services, Salt Lake City, UT.
Bird-aircraft collisions (hereafter, bird strikes) pose substantial hazards to aviation safety. The most common method employed to objectively quantify bird hazards on airport property is a point-count survey. However, we questioned the adequacy of point counts in prioritizing bird-strike hazards. Our objectives were to:
We defined risk as the product of an index of frequency of use and a damage metric associated with a bird strike. We referenced observational data collected by USDA Wildlife Services biologists (over 50 weeks between 10 June 2003 and 11 June 2004) and assigned 51 species observations to 14 groups based on American Ornithologist’s Union classification and bird-strike data obtained from the FAA. Ranks for risk within survey method were similar between surveys for 9 of 14 groups. Waterfowl (excluding Canada geese, Branta canadensis, but including double-crested cormorants, Phalacrocorax auritus), Corvidae, gulls (Laridae), and Canada geese ranked among the top 5 groups for risk in both surveys. Notably, raptors ranked 4th in risk based on the RPZ survey, but 9th based on point-count survey. Strike statistics for SEA indicate that gulls and some passerine species tied for the most strikes/year (1990-2005), followed by ties among raptors, shorebirds (Laridae), and swallows/swifts (Hirundinidae/Apodidae). Data from the RPZ survey indicate that raptors posed a greater bird-strike risk at SEA than indicated by point-count data. This risk associated with a potential raptor strike was corroborated by strike statistics at SEA.
- Quantify relative risk associated with potential bird strikes at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) based on data from point counts and a supplemental survey of species time spent within runway protection zones (RPZs) for active runways; and
- Contrast risk based on each survey method against airport-specific bird-strike statistics obtained from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Trains, Grains & Grizzly Bears: Reducing wildlife mortality on railway tracks in Banff National Park
- Jim Pissot, Executive Director, Defenders of Wildlife Canada, Canmore, Alberta, Canada, Phone: 403-678-0016.
Between 2000 and 2007, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) emerged as the leading human-related cause of grizzly bear mortality in Banff National Park. Seven grizzlies were struck by CPR trains, and none of the five cubs orphaned by these collisions survived within the park. Other wildlife also have been struck and killed. Spilled grain, track-side attractants, and preference of animals for open travel corridors are cited as contributing to these collisions. CPR’s rail lines bisect the Canadian Rockies and, along with other factors, inhibit wildlife movement and genetic connectivity. Ecologists and conservations seek to implement measures to ensure continued ecological connectivity across these man-made barriers. Railways have adopted various methods to reduce wildlife mortality, including more efficient sealing of grain cars, vacuum cars to recover spilled grain, and warnings that alert wildlife of approaching trains. Fencing and crossing structures, such as those assisting wildlife to cross highways, also are being considered. We discuss the causes of train-wildlife collisions, steps taken to reduce the number of collisions, propose further opportunities to reduce the likelihood of collisions.
Impacts of Ferry Terminals on Juvenile Salmon Movement along Puget Sound Shorelines
- R.M. Thom, Staff Scientist, and S.L. Southard, G.D. Williams, J.D. Toft, C.W. May, G.A. McMichael, J.A. Vucelick, J.T. Newell, J.A. Southard; Battelle Memorial Institute, Pacific Northwest Division, Sequim, WA, Phone: 360-681-3657.
This study was sponsored by the Washington State Department of Transportation and conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration.
This study used both standardized surveys and innovative fish tagging and tracking technologies to address whether WSF terminals alter the behavior of migrating juvenile salmon, and if so, which attributes mediate abundance patterns or behavioral changes. Results showed that juvenile salmon were observed most frequently adjacent to ferry terminals, but were also observed far from and underneath the terminals. In some situations, juvenile salmon aggregated near the edge of the ferry terminal OWS. Variations in habitat, as mediated by tidal stage (affecting current magnitude and direction, light under structures, water level) and time of day (light level, sun angle, cloud cover), likely affect salmonid movement. Juvenile chum were observed to remain on the light side of a relatively sharp light-dark "edge" over a short horizontal distance (e.g., five meters). These observations demonstrate that the shading caused by ferry terminals and other OWS characteristics can deter or delay juvenile salmonid movement, and that this effect may be decreased at low tides when ambient light can better filter beneath the terminal structure. Recommendations are made concerning the design and operation of WSF terminals with regard to minimizing the undesirable impacts of OWS on juvenile salmonid movement as well as additional research. View full report.
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