Hazard reduction nets venison for food banks

By John Paulson, CWB, State Director, USDA Wildlife Services-ND/SD

Mule deer appear at Ellsworth Air Force Base, near Rapid City, South Dakota. Wildlife Services worked to remove deer from the base, where they pose a danger to aircraft. Credit: Wildlife Services

What began as a project to assess hazards to U.S. military assets in South Dakota has led to the donation of 2,290 pounds of high-quality protein to people in need of food assistance.

Wildlife Services-North/South Dakota helps the U.S. Air Force reduce and prevent wildlife strikes to B-1B bombers and transient aircraft at Ellsworth Air Force Base, the 1,270-acre airfield near Rapid City. Since September 2018, a Wildlife Services biologist has worked fulltime at Ellsworth to assist the 28th Bomb Wing Safety Office with wildlife concerns and conduct a wildlife hazard assessment.

This comprehensive review by airport wildlife biologist Tara Darby, a TWS-South Dakota chapter member, identified several potential wildlife threats to aircraft. She identified the primary concern was the population of 80 to 100 mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) residing on base.

Ellsworth is slated to become home to the new B-21 stealth bomber in the next five to 10 years, with airfield construction set to begin this spring. That can increase the likelihood of deer accessing the flight line and posing a serious threat to aircraft and the mission.

Mule and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, out of 77 bird and mammal hazard species in a paper by National Wildlife Research Center scientists [DeVault, 2011]. Although mule deer strikes are relatively rare compared to strikes with various bird species, almost all mule deer-aircraft strikes cause damage and 83% cause a negative effect on flight.

Wildlife Services-Montana has assisted with reducing the mule deer population on Ellsworth AFB since December 2019, with a total of 49 mule deer removed from the base. South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks tests the deer for chronic wasting disease.

With negative CWD findings, Wildlife Services has donated more than 9,000 servings of venison to the Pine Ridge Reservation and the Rapid City Food Bank.

Wildlife Services is a Strategic Partner of TWS.


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