Smith Reynolds Airport officials will get a year for rifle shooting of deer on the airport property, under a plan endorsed by a city committee on Monday.
The 3-0 vote on the Winston-Salem City Council’s Public Safety Committee means that if the full council goes along, wildlife officers would be using rifles equipped with noise suppression to kill deer that are endangering aircraft safety by their presence on and around the runways.
Officials estimate there are some 15 or so deer living on the airport property that have the potential to cause catastrophic damage to an aircraft.
Current city ordinances allow only the use of shotguns to kill problem animals at the airport, but officials say shotguns shouldn’t be used for deer because they lack the precision and range needed to kill the animals.
On Monday, Andy Moore, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said that experts armed with rifles should be able to kill all the problem deer over a period of three to four weeks by shooting the animals one or two nights a week on the property.
Jerelyn Travick, who lives near the airport, voiced a concern for neighborhood safety.
“It seems the major concern is keeping the aircraft and the lives safe at the airport more than the residents of the community,” she said.
Travick wanted to know what kind of safety guarantees the airport officials could offer, as well as beginning and ending dates of the shootings and other details.
James Taylor, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, assured Travick that the city would get out the word before any shooting actually takes place.
The city has sent out more than 700 copies of a letter informing residents about the proposed elimination of the deer, giving them options to voice their views.
The letters were sent out under the signature of Northeast Ward Council Member Vivian Burke.
The adoption of the ordinance allowing the shootings would include a public hearing to allow comment as well.
Burke made the motion on Monday to endorse the ordinance change that would allow the rifle shooting of deer, but added a provision that would put a sunset on the new regulation after one year.
That limit, suggested by City Attorney Angela Carmon, would give the council the option to continue or eliminate the deer-removal program based on how things work out during the first year.
Although the measure passed committee, Taylor abstained and said he would comment further when the matter comes before the city council on Aug. 19.
Wildlife and airport officials say the deer-removal method has been safely carried out in settings more urban than Winston-Salem. Officials say the officers who carry out the shooting are experienced and skilled, and would be always making sure that no firing was done that might endanger someone.
The shooting is carried out by a three-member team that includes a driver, a spotter and a shooter. The deer are detected with infrared lighting, and night-vision scopes are used.