By Melinda Munson
In mid May, a small band of volunteers from Paws & Claws Animal Shelter completed a dog walking training to discourage birds from nesting near the Skagway Airport runway.
The workshop follows approximately six weeks of seasonal explosions at the airport meant to scare off birds. Reported to be more intense than most years, the noise is alarming tourists and causing anxiety among pets. One local dog, startled by an explosion, jumped from his car window and was killed by traffic.
“We still do not have the official go ahead from the higher ups at DOT,” said Katherine Moseley of Paws & Claws. “But we wanted to keep the momentum going forward by completing this training. We will be ready to go as soon as approval is obtained. Unfortunately, this means you will still be hearing the firecrackers. Things on government levels can be slow.”
Moseley said that while the dog walking program is often called hazing, that’s not an accurate portrayal.
“Dogs are not being encouraged to chase birds. Just having a presence with or without dogs helps us deter them. When the birds see the dogs, they treat them how they would treat a predator (think fox, wolf, coyote) showing up in a nesting area. It does not make it a hospitable area for them to want to nest in.”
Moseley calls the dog walking “a temporary solution.”
“I am confident a public process will happen in the fall that will include expert etc,” she said.
According to Moseley, the volunteer group will intentionally be kept small so it is easy to manage.
The Paws and Claws Animal Shelter Facebook page offers suggestions for helping pets deal with the loud noise and any resulting behaviors in a May 12 post.
According to Mayor Andrew Cremata, historically the birds vacate the area by early June. Until then, residents may hear blasts from 8:30-11:30 a.m. Warnings about airport explosions will appear on Skagway Swap (Facebook) and be reported to Nixle.
Cremata wondered if Juneau would be submitted “to these constant explosions.”
“People are justified to be upset about it,” he said – but reminded Skagwegians that “explosions are better than someone dying in a plane crash.” Although, Cremata believes it “doesn’t have to be one or the other.”
Cremata reported that the response from the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT) “has been good.”
“They’re working with all the interested parties to come up with a more dynamic plan,” he said.
DOT did not respond for comment by deadline.