Gwinnett County will close Rhodes Jordan Park and perhaps the Briscoe Field airport in Lawrenceville for parts of three days next week to chase away 250 pesky vultures that pose a safety hazard to local aircraft.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to kill at least five of the birds and harass the rest until they leave the park they call home.
“Animals find a niche, and a niche is essentially a place where they can meet their requirements for food, shelter and space,” said Mark Patterson, conservation parks operation coordinator for the Gwinnett Parks and Recreation Department.
Unless conditions become too uncomfortable, they’re not likely to leave the park, he said.
Rhodes Jordan Park covers 162 acres off East Crogan Street. Patterson said the birds – which are known for feasting on dead animals – may have found a steady supply of garbage, dead fish or dean animals to eat in the area. They may or may not be eating in the park.
Whatever the reason they like the park, they’ve got to go, Patterson said. The birds are protected under federal law, but “have been designated and identified as a potential safety issue for the airport,” he said. They could cause serious damage to aircraft landing and taking off from the airport.
Authorities have tried everything from installing wildlife-proof garbage cans to firing pyrotechnics to scare the birds away.
Now they’re trying a more sustained effort. From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday – just as the birds are settling in to roost – the USDA will harass the birds with pyrotechnics to scare them away.
Patterson said the county has a permit to kill up to 5 birds, but the USDA could kill more, if it deems it necessary. He said it’s unrealistic to expect all of the birds to go. But he hopes to reduce the population to a more manageable number.
The park will be closed each day during the operation. The airport will be closed as needed.
“Our goal, first and foremost, is stewardship of public lands,” Patterson said. “The idea behind this was not just something that was cooked up overnight. We’ve spent well over 18 months trying different alternatives. It really boils down to the need for creating a safer flight zone for the airport.”