By Hannah Heimbuch
Next week the Seldovia City Council will discuss the fate of several local turkeys living near the airport, deemed a hazard by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
Two male turkeys, descendants of about 45 released by two Seldovians nearly 10 years ago, are thought to be the only birds remaining from the original flock.
“There was nine of them when the winter started,” said Micahel Opheim, a 40-year resident of Seldovia who would like to see the birds preserved. “In the last month all of the hens have disappeared.”
The birds have been a pleasant part of the community for years, Opheim said, and he is frustrated with the approach taken by the state. It started a year ago, he said, when a request to dispose of the birds came up at city council through an ADOT employee.
“The council opened it up to public comment, and there was quite a number of people in town that stood up and said, ‘No, we don’t want these birds shot,’” he said.
The request has made another formal appearance in city business recently, in the form of a March 25 letter from Jeffrey Doerning, aviation safety and security officer for the ADOT Central Region.
“It has come to my attention that past issues with local turkeys frequenting the runway at the Seldovia Airport are once again posing a hazard to the flying public,” wrote Doerning in his letter to Seldovia City Manager Tim Dillon.
The city is taking the formal request seriously, Dillon said, and will follow up on it with a discussion next week.
“The state sent us a letter that said the animals — the couple of turkeys that are at the end of the runway — are a hazard,” Dillon said. “We have it on our agenda for the council meeting on April 9.”
In his letter, Doerning referred to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Wildlife Strike Database as evidence that the threat of such hazards are real and serious matters.
The database lists 77 collisions of wildlife and civilian aircraft in Alaska since 1990 causing minor damage, and 43 causing significant damage. It lists only one strike for Seldovia, a 2006 collision with a bald eagle. The damage sustained in that incident is unspecified. A 2011 incident with gulls is listed for Port Graham, and no strikes are recorded for the Homer Airport.
“It is in the interest of the safety of the members of your community and the flying public at large that I am requesting your voluntary assistance in removing this serious safety threat at the Seldovia Airport,” Doerning wrote. “I would ask that you consider a safe, lethal take of these turkeys by your police department as an opportunity to remove a local hazard while at the same time providing food to a local charity or event of your choosing.”
Some Seldovia residents, like Liane and Chris Crosta, are surprised that this is being brought up again, thinking the issue was resolved when the community discussed it last year.
“I do not understand all the fuss over two birds by our state workers,” Liane Crosta said. “These turkeys have been around for a long time. The skies are full of birds, and there are four-legged animals abound(ing). Is this eradication plan a necessary and prudent spending of our tax dollars?”
Dave Rush owns Homer Air, which provides regular flight service to and from Seldovia. He doesn’t support the birds’ destruction, either, and said the birds help make the small community on Kachemak Bay’s south shores a unique place.
“Yes there are turkeys hanging around the airport from time to time,” Rush said. “But they don’t seem to pose a threat to safety. We all think they’re pretty cool to have around.”
Permanent residents and summer visitors alike are fond of the turkeys, Opheim said, and at this point they’re almost a kind of community pet.
“The play-group kids have even tracked the birds down and for a long time would sit and watch them,” he said. “Community members drive around and look for them, give them cereal.”
Opheim said he’d be happy to assist in an alternative safety measure, whether that means moving them to another location or setting up a pen.
“I hunt — that’s what I live off of, is things I hunt,” Opheim said. “But I don’t like to see things killed just because somebody doesn’t like them. I don’t see why harming some animal that isn’t bothering anybody is going to benefit anything.”
Opheim helps to recover injured wild animals in the area and find them placement in recovery facilities, such as the SeaLife Center in Seward, or the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage.
“At the meeting here last week I mentioned the pen,” Opheim said. “And I mentioned capturing them, moving them out the road to Jackalof. At least if they meet their demise naturally I can understand that. I don’t have a problem with nature taking its course. But to just kill them, just doesn’t go very well with me.”
Opheim plans to attend the April 9 meeting to voice his concern for the birds and possible alternatives to removing them lethally.
The ADOT letter indicates, however, that a decision has been made about the turkeys, regardless of what action residents do or do not approve.
“If you are not interested or able to participate, please advise me as such and our department staff either from Homer or Seldovia will accomplish this on behalf of the state and the flying public,” Doerning wrote.