Curry officials pursue methods to keep animals away

Curry County is going to get into the elk-hazing business, county commissioners decided last week.

A herd of elk has joined black-tailed deer that loiter on the Brookings Airport runway, endangering airplanes as they land or take off - especially at night.

"I do believe there will be one or two lives saved," said Curry County Sheriff John Bishop. "We've looked at their habitat, and they're in there deep; they're dug in. I'm not sure if they'll be moving on in the near future. It looks like they've made it home."

The airport is in the city of Brookings, but is owned by the county. The city and county are trying to work on joint management plans to improve the local economy and establish the facility as a staging area for emergency situations.

Cal-Ore Life Flight CEO Dan Brattain said his firm now requires pilots to call ahead for an ambulance to "sweep" the runways to ensure pilots can land safely. But Bishop doesn't have the resources to do that.

Currently, county surveyor Bryan Flavin and Facilities Maintenance Coordinator Eric Hanson are delineating where a new fence should be erected.

And county officials are working to obtain various grants - a preliminary estimate puts the cost at $513,000 - and gathering support to show the Federal Aviation Administration how dire the situation is there.

The work will likely involve about three specialty firms - landscape removal, fence erection and others - and approval from the FAA, the state departments of environmental quality, fish and wildlife, and aviation. It might be possible to secure future anticipated funding for runway repairs from the agency, as well. Those funds typically total about $150,000 a year.

"The initial indication is that they're regarding the request very favorably," Itzen said of the FAA.

In the meantime, Bishop said he could send a deputy to the airport - if one is available - to honk, flash lights and sound a vehicle's siren to scare the animals away.

Another option would be to have a deputy light explosives, or obtain tags to kill the bull elk in charge of the herd of almost 30, Bishop said.

"It's not unusual to encounter this problem," Itzen said. "But once you do, you have to move quickly to solve it."