ELKHART — Officials at a northern Indiana airport have turned to shooting coyotes that wander onto the property because of worries about the animals posing a safety hazard.
The move comes after workers used live traps for two years without catching any of the coyotes. Doing nothing to curtail their presence would be "a recipe for disaster," Elkhart Municipal Airport manager Andy Jones said.
At least two landings have had to be aborted in recent years because of coyotes near or on the runway and one plane taking off missed a coyote by about 20 feet, Jones told The Elkhart Truth.
Under the current policy, when a coyote is spotted, airport workers contact police officers, who then attempt to shoot the animal. Three coyotes have been killed this year, and officials believe about five more have been spotted.
While Jones said the practice is unfortunate but comes down to safety and liability concerns for the airport about 10 miles east of South Bend.
"When it comes to human life, it's an easy decision," Jones said.
The city obtained a nuisance wildlife animal control permit to kill the coyotes, said Phil Bloom, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Coyotes are native to Indiana and "their numbers are up from where they were five to 10 years ago," Bloom said. "Part of that is their adaptability.
"They can adapt to all sorts of environments, whether it's a woodland setting (or) an urban setting," he said.
Airport officials are seeking a federal grant toward an estimated $1 million wildlife hazard fence that would run around the perimeter of the airport's 670 acres. That fence would be 10 feet tall, extend three feet underground and be topped with barbed wire.
Jones said airport employees have received additional wildlife hazard training and participated in a wildlife and migration survey later used as part of a study on how to combat the problem.
Bird guns are used to scare off the flocks and workers keep the grass on the property cut short to minimize the number of rodents, which attract another problem — hawks.
Worms that accumulate on the runway after rain are routinely brushed off to prevent birds from gathering.
"The general public doesn't have any idea what has to go on behind the scenes in order to guarantee their safety during flights," Jones said.