Back then, wildlife - mostly birds and larger mammals, such as deer and coyotes - were, when deemed a hazard to aircraft taking off and landing, simply shot. As I became a young adult increasingly involved in animal protection, it was thought to be somewhat revolutionary when people concerned about the shooting of so many snowy owls and other birds of prey ("raptors") began to catch them, band them, and move them to be released far away. Most did not return. And, falconers began to use other, trained raptors to chase away gulls, geese, and other bird flocks. Red Mason, who often advised the airport in those days, would occasionally ask my assistance, even having me identify bird remains. I attended workshops and was shown just how much damage even a relatively small bird could cause when sucked into a jet engine.
But, there was a dark side to it all. Attracted to the business of airport wildlife control were unscrupulous professional falconers who used their legally obtained, licensed, trained raptors to "launder" illegally obtained birds poached from the wild. I did an investigation and was able to publicly expose some of their wrongdoings in The Toronto Star. However, they took revenge by having me charged with stealing falcons. Actually, the two birds, escaped from falconers, had been legally rescued by me. The police had been duped into thinking I must have stolen them, and I was charged. Those charges were ultimately thrown out, but it left me with a less-than-positive attitude toward the then- relatively new profession of airport wildlife control: an outlook in no way improved by reports of mass shootings of all manner of wild animals, whether threats to wildlife or not, at JFK Airport in NYC.
Still, my interest remained, and I was horrified a few years ago to learn of plans to extend one runway at Toronto Island's airport into Toronto Bay and, at the other end, Lake Ontario. This is to allow use of the airport by passenger jets - the very kinds of airplanes most at risk from bird strikes - as opposed to the propeller-driven and short-take-off-and-landing planes now used, including by me.
And, so it was that last Sep. 18, I found myself at Montreal's Trudeau International Airport attending a one-day training seminar that followed the 2015 North American Bird Strike Conference, attended by my two friends, Georges Dupras and Anne Streeter. They briefed me at dinner the previous evening and gave me conference documents. Pierre Molina of Falcon Environmental Services Inc. and Gary Searing of Airport Wildlife Management International led a small number of professionals, plus me, through a fascinating day of airport wildlife management training. The most important lesson for me is that there is a significant, and ongoing, move toward professionalism. Yes, trapping and relocation, and killing, still occur - but they are no longer the default solutions to problems caused by the presence of wildlife at airports. And yes, my agenda is to protect animals, but no one (certainly not I) wants to see wildlife strikes at airports; we all want to reduce them as much as possible.
That's the good news. The bad is that all wildlife control can do is try to control wildlife who is on or near the airport and who pose a risk. (Not all wildlife does.) The biggest single problem is that airports are too often placed right where aircraft landing and taking off are most likely to encounter birds. And, as I had known since that Boston catastrophe of 1960, planes flying low over water and shorelines pose huge risk, as that is where so many birds - geese and other waterfowl, gulls, cormorants, herons, migrant raptors, and migrant flocks of shorebirds - are most likely to be in the way. What wildlife control agencies cannot do is influence the process by which decisions are made.