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Musk Oxen A Growing Concern For Nome, AK, Pilots

Animals Have Been Seen Near The City's Airport

Most pilots are aware of the safety issues surrounding bird strike, but in Nome, Alaska, pilots are facing a growing concern about a different like of wildlife. Musk oxen have been seen near the city's airport, and are suspected of causing damage to some airplanes on the ground.

The animals, which can stand between four and five feet tall and weigh 800 pounds, have been moving closer to populated areas, having no natural predators and being protected by laws limiting hunting. Researchers, such as Claudia Ihi at the University of Alaska in Nome, have seen the animals "right next to the runway" in Nome, according to a report in the Alaska Dispatch.

Pilot Vic Olsen told the paper that he has noticed scrapings on airplanes near the Nome airport, and that some have been found with damaged wing struts. While he cannot say with certainty that musk oxen are the culprits, tracks around the damaged airplanes suggest they have been at least nearby.

No incident of an airplane striking a musk ox has been reported, but the local pilots say they are concerned that it is a possibility. An FAA database that tracks accidents involving wildlife indicates that there have been cases of airplanes hitting animals such as moose, caribou, and black-tailed deer at Alaska airports, and the Nome airport participates in a USDA Wildlife Management program to protect both animals and pilots. The runway is swept for animals before every departure, and pilots are informed by radio if musk oxen are spotted in the area before takeoff and landing. Airport officials are authorized to kill the animals as a last resort if other efforts to clear the runway fail.

Officials say that a permanent fence is impractical due to permafrost and snow.

The Alaska DOT's Jeremy Worrall said that the department works to keep areas near airports free of grasses and standing water that attract the animals.

(Public domain image)

FMI: http://dot.alaska.gov/nreg

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