Airport officials try to match wits with wily coyotes |

Airport officials try to match wits with wily coyotes

Rick Chandler

The Lake Tahoe Airport is ready to take its next step in an ongoing battle of wits with a nearby family of coyotes.

So far, the coyotes seem to be winning.

Airport officials have claimed for some time that coyotes have been wreaking havoc with runway operations – in some cases even disrupting takeoffs. According to officials, it seems that the wily woodland creatures enjoy sunning themselves on the airport runway, and also nosing around, mooching for food.

After a series of meetings and discussions with city officials and local wildlife experts, airport officials have decided that repairing and upgrading an existing perimeter fence is the next step in solving the problem.

The airport will take a large portion of a recent $200,000 Federal Aviation Administration grant and divert it to the fence project, which will go out for bid sometime next month. Plans are to repair holes in the fence, and strengthen it with a string of barbed wire at the top, and 3 feet of chain link on the bottom.

“This will prevent coyotes from climbing over, or burrowing under, we hope,” said Lake Tahoe Airport Public Information Officer Janis Brand. “If this doesn’t work, then we go back to the drawing board and say OK, what next?”

According to Brand, the coyotes have become so numerous and brash that they actually dart across the runway in front of moving planes. In May, the FAA ordered the airport to find a solution to the coyote problem.

“The FAA had given us a substantial grant, which we had hoped to use on other airport upgrades,” Brand said. “But now we will have to use (a good portion of the grant money) for the fence. We are basically being forced to solve the problem in this manner,” Brand said.

Some observers feel, however, that there is no real coyote problem at the airport at all.

“Coyotes have not been disrupting things here to any large degree,” said Mindy Johnke of Oasis Aviation, which is based at the airport. “It’s been blown out of proportion. There has been no airplane chasing or anything like that. I saw one coyote last week, but that’s all.”

Johnke maintains that while repairing the fence is probably a good idea, the real problem is in the habitat surrounding the airport.

“Coyotes like to make their dens in the drainage pipes,” she said. “If you close off those (outlets), they won’t breed in there, and there won’t be so many.”

South Lake Tahoe Mayor Judy Brown, who participated in a meeting with airport officials last month, said that approximately 215 access points have been identified around the airport fence, where coyotes have breached the fence by either digging under or climbing over.

“They are smart little guys,” Brown said of the coyotes.

“I have a hard time believing that coyotes climb over that fence,” Johnke said. “Under the fence, maybe.”

Through all the controversy, the coyotes so far appear to have come out pretty well. Initial discussion involved trapping, relocating or possibly even destroying breeding pairs.

“Those are not among the options at this time,” Brand said. “We don’t want them killed.”

Instead, they are simply being fenced out. Plus, the coyotes are now celebrities – an NBC News film crew spent five days at the airport last week compiling footage for a feature news piece.

“They came out every day and only found one coyote,” Johnke said. “It’s not a huge problem.”

Brand disagrees.

“The NBC piece was light and humorous,” Brand said. “They realize that we are no different than any airport in the nation. There is an increasing coyote population in many areas. I joked that maybe we should hire a roadrunner.”

NBC anchor Tom Brokaw – who presented the piece toward the end of Friday’s newscast – had his own solution to the coyote dilemma: “Just feed them airline food and they’ll go away fast.”

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