California lawmakers to vote on wildlife mitigation bill

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The California State Assembly is soon expected to vote on legislation to grant airports immunity from state law to remove wildlife threatening passenger safety from airport property.

California's Sacramento International airport pushed for the bill after a state fish and game warden said that Sacramento airport staff could be arrested for conducting wildlife management activities, a spokeswoman for airport operator Sacramento County Airport System explains. Sacramento County felt there was a need for the airport's authority to be clearly delineated in state law, she says.

The airport faces a particular challenge with water fowl and in calendar year 2007 had the highest number of reported bird strikes in the FAA's Western Pacific region, she adds. A total of 128 bird strikes were recorded at the airport in 2005, followed by 117 in 2006 and 113 in 2007, the latest data available from the FAA.

Sacramento County Senator Dave Cox introduced the wildlife mitigation bill, which passed the California State Senate in May and then unanimously passed out of the Assembly's committee on water, parks and wildlife in June.

The full Assembly is expected to vote on the bill sometime after it returns from recess on 17 August.

"So far, there is no formal opposition to this bipartisan bill," the Sacramento County Airport System spokeswoman says.

The California bill is similar to Florida legislation passed earlier this summer following the Hudson River landing of a US Airways Airbus A320 caused by bird strikes on 15 January.

The Airline Safety and Wildlife Protection Act of Florida aims to give commercial airport directors leeway as they enact federally required wildlife hazard management plans without fear of prosecution if a protected animal is accidentally killed, Florida Representative Scott Plakon said.

Plakon worked with Orlando Sanford International airport president and CEO Larry Dale in crafting the legislation.

Dale has also been pressing the US Congress to craft immunity legislation at the federal level. He says he has held preliminary discussions with Florida Congressman John Mica, the ranking Republican on the US House committee on transportation and infrastructure.

Bird strikes have also caught the attention of New York Senator Charles Schumer, who in June introduced legislation requiring that the FAA be notified of aircraft wildlife strikes.

Currently strike reporting is voluntary but the proposed Wildlife Strike Act of 2009 mandates that aircraft operators, airport personnel or aircraft maintenance personnel report to the FAA when an aircraft collides with one or more birds or other wildlife.