::US Navy Disputes OLF Poison Claims
By Elliott West, Raleigh Chronicle News Editor
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
NORFOLK, VA - A US Navy spokesman disputes claims made by the NC Governor's Office and the media that the Navy intends to use a bird poison known as Avitrol on migratory waterfowl at a proposed practice landing site (known as OLF) in eastern North Carolina.
The spokesman said that recent statements made about the Navy's use of Avitrol are not accurate and that Avitrol is not "a technique used for migratory waterfowl at all."
As reported by this newspaper last week, Governor Easley and members of his staff had stated to the media that use of the poison could result in harm to both people as well as migratory waterfowl who pass through the area.
Easley and others oppose the proposed OLF site since it is next to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in eastern NC.
Avitrol Not Used For Migratory Birds
In a phone interview with the Raleigh Chronicle last Friday, Theodore Brown, a spokesman for the US Navy at the US Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia, said that reports that the Navy would use Avitrol against federally protected migratory waterfowl are simply not true.
"That chemical has never been used in the state of North Carolina and it's not licensed for use against migratory waterfowl," said Brown. "It would not be appropriate."
He said that reports based on a Navy document which said that the Navy had planned to use the chemical against waterfowl were taken out of context.
"There are a lot of things being promulgated in the media that are not entirely consistent with what the document actually says," said Brown.
Brown added that the only reason the use of the chemical was even mentioned in the publicly available document was because the US Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services Division included the possible use of the chemical in a comprehensive report that included all available tools to the military in controlling birds in the area.
"They [Wildlife Services Division] have an obligation to include every tool that is available to the Navy," said Brown. "They were trying to be as thorough as possible."
Brown added that by no means would Avitrol be the first line of defense to get rid of birds in the flightline area.
"Land management will always be the first tool," commented Brown. "Lethal techniques will always be used as a last resort."
Brown said that Avitrol has been used some for control of pigeons in the past at some bases, but widespread use is certainly not prevalent and claims of use against migratory birds are wholly inaccurate.
"It's not a technique used for migratory waterfowl at all...that's nationwide," he said.
The preferred means of keeping birds away from the proposed landing field is through land management, says Brown.
"The Navy intends to manage 30,000 acres," said Brown.
The actual landing field area of 14,000 acres would be purchased outright by the Navy and the Navy would acquire easements around the site of another 16,000 acres, said Brown about the Navy's plans.
"It would depend on the site...as to what sort of easement [would be used]," he said.
Brown stated that the Navy would reduce the presence of birds by reducing any attraction for the animals -- namely cutting back on the presence of corn, soybeans, and winter wheat.
Also, Brown commented that the Navy would ask for "post-harvesting techniques" to be implemented by farmers in the area such as plowing under waste grain in the fields to reduce the number of birds grazing there.
Navy Still Selecting The Site
Although opposed by several members of Congress including Republican Walter Jones who recently stated he was against the site, the Navy has said that they want to use the proposed site "C" near the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
In addition to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, the site has received criticism from state politicians, environmental groups, and even the National Rifle Association.
However, Navy spokesman Theodore Brown defended the possible site near Pocosin for the OLF, but he added that there are up to five sites in total being considered.
"No [final] site has been selected," said Brown.
The Navy will decide on which site is their final choice and if everything proceeds as planned, in 2012 the proposed field will be operational, said Brown.
Site Received Review From Biologists
Brown said that the controversial preferred site has undergone a thorough review by biologists who looked at the potential impact of the field on birds in the area.
A 20 week long study performed by three independent wildlife experts found that the risks to birds in the area were "manageable" and that flight operations at the OLF could be maintained without causing "significant impact" claims Brown.
"They [the three biologists] provided an independent review," he said and added that their findings were reviewed by a technical review panel as well.
Birds A Problem At Airports
In his telephone interview with the Chronicle, Brown maintained that no proposed field would be without bird strike management issues and there is no field on the coast where birds are not present.
"Navy and civilian airports deal with this [bird strike issue] at nearly every airport in the country," he said.
"There are bird strike issues...at all of the proposed [OLF] sites but we believe they can be managed effectively," he added.
Brown mentioned that the Navy has had plenty of experience in dealing with birds and bird strike issues in the past and with most of its bases near the coast, they are near large bird populations.
"Typically, they are located next to water," he commented. "They are the Navy after all."
Other Military Sites With Problems
Brown said there are many military landing sites where there are large bird problems and solutions have been found.
The military "has been able to effectively deal with those issues" said Brown.
For example, at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Brown said that the military does not control the land around the base which is next to a wildlife area and yet they are able to control birdstrikes there.
According to media reports, the military uses border collies and other measures to keep birds off of the flight line area at the base as well as radar to monitor the birds.
Brown added that flight operations such as landings and takeoffs at the proposed OLF in NC would be "considerably less than Dover."
Navy OLF Website Info
Brown invited people to review the statements on the Avitrol use and other information on the US Navy OLF website themselves at http://www.olfseis.com.
"I would encourage people to actually read the document...and not take it out of context," he said.
According to Brown, the Navy hopes that people will realize that bird strikes are a common issue at air bases and that the military has plenty of experience in dealing with bird populations without having to resort to using poison.
Congressman Walt Jones Joins Fray
Last Friday March 30th, US Congressman Walt Jones (R), who represents parts of eastern North Carolina, issued a statement saying that he too was opposed to the proposed landing site near the Pocosin wildlife area.
Representative Jones has been a staunch advocate for military personnel and families since many of them are stationed in his district.
In a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, Jones, said that he felt the proposed site for the OLF should be changed.
"After reviewing the SEIS and consulting with preeminent bird strike experts including the former Chief of the U.S. Air Force's Bird Aircraft Strike Team Dr. Russel P. DeFusco, I am particularly concerned that Site C poses significant risks to pilots, planes and taxpayers," said Representative Jones.
"Spending a quarter of a billion dollars to construct an outlying field on a site with severe operational restrictions is not a wise use of American taxpayers' hard-earned money. Threatening the viability of one of the world's last great waterfowl habitats especially if done through extreme measures such as poisoning large numbers of wild birds is unjustifiable. And needlessly putting the lives of Navy and Marine Corps aviators at risk is simply unacceptable," said Jones in his letter.
Other opponents, including North Carolina Governor Mike Easley, also say that the wildlife area is simply too valuable a resource to be disrupted by Naval air operations that could be easily located elsewhere.
Opposition to the OLF site near Pocosin also have a website which is located at