Burke leads rifle initiative at Smith Reynolds Airport

Mayor Tempore Vivian Burke

Burke leads rifle initiative at Smith Reynolds Airport
August 22
10:33 2019

After it was sent back to the public safety committee for discussion earlier this summer, the Winston-Salem City Council has approved an amendment that will allow wildlife officers to discharge rifles to shoot deer within the boundaries of Smith Reynolds Airport. 

Before the amendment was approved by a 6-1 vote on Monday, Aug. 19, the ordinance only allowed the use of shotguns to remove deer and other wildlife in the vicinity of the airport. James Capps, a wildlife biologist who spoke to city council members during a public safety committee meeting, said shotguns were best for shooting birds, not deer.

It is believed that about 15 whitetail deer are currently within the fences that enclose the runways and taxiways of the airport located on North Liberty Street. Representatives from the airport have said deer on the runway and taxiway, a path that connects to the runway, cause problems for aircraft and most importantly, endangers passengers. 

When the matter was on the table for a vote in June, councilmembers raised questions about how the amendment would impact residents who live in the vicinity of the airport. Councilmember James Taylor, who is publisher of The Chronicle and chair of the public safety committee, said he didn’t feel comfortable voting on the matter without having input from the residents first. 

“I would like to have seen an opportunity to have more public input on this issue, especially from the community surrounding the airport,” Taylor continued. “I understand the need to curtail the deer population. I think it makes sense to protect the residents who are using the planes and the equipment at the airport, but I think we have to do it at the same time protecting the community.”

Councilmember Denise “D.D.” Adams” agreed with Taylor. She said the original plan, which was to notify residents a few days before wildlife experts were scheduled to arrive, wasn’t sufficient. 

“You can’t just tell people the weekend before you’re going to shoot rifles. I agree with Councilmember Taylor that we need to pull this back and make sure that everybody in the community around that airport understands what is getting ready to happen and why.”

After hearing comments from her colleagues, Mayor Tempore Vivian Burke made a motion to have the amendment sent back to the public safety committee for review. Since that time, city officials have sent out more than 700 letters to residents who live within 500 feet of airport property. City officials also sent emails and had meetings with residents.

At least nine residents responded to the city and let it be known that they were against the amendment. Jerelyn Travick, who lives on Airport Road, has been very vocal about her concerns with the rifles. During the committee meeting, Travick raised numerous questions about the amendment.

Although residents like Travick and others still have concerns, prior to voting on Monday night, Burke said, “We have communicated in many ways with them and I don’t know how much more we can talk about this issue.”

To eliminate the deer population within the boundaries of the airport, wildlife experts will use suppressed single-fire rifles. According to Andrew Moore, a representative with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the firearms will only be used from an elevated platform, so the experts will always be shooting down. 

He also mentioned they will be using ammunition that will break up when it makes contact with the deer, which will decrease the likelihood of the bullet going through the animal and causing ricochet. 

“We’re going to make sure that any of the work that we conduct out on the airfield is only in the safe locations to do so,” Moore said. “As mentioned, there are a lot of areas where communities are in the backdrop, but those aren’t the areas we’re going to target. We’re only going to work in areas where it is safe to use these firearms.” 

Moore said the best time for the “sharpshooting activities” is in the fall. He mentioned the team of wildlife experts would need to conduct the activities at least once or twice a week for about a month.

It is unclear exactly when the deer purging will begin, but the amendment approved by council is effective until August 19, 2020. After that date, the council will have to re-amend the ordinance to allow the use of rifles.  

“I would imagine that we would need to conduct these activities probably a few different nights,” Moore said. “Probably have once or twice a week over a period of three or four weeks so we can hopefully get those numbers down so that it’s much safer around the airport.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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