The Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF), which promotes backcountry flying, used a $10,000 Giving Back grant from the AOPA Foundation to conduct scientific research into the stress-related effects of aircraft noise on wildlife.
Jack Tyler, the RAF liaison for Florida, learned about the grant in AOPA Pilot magazine. “We saw it as a need connecting with an opportunity. Our board had been talking some time about some of the basic dilemmas we faced,” he said. “The principal people we have to work with in order to retain recreational airstrips and reopen ones that have been closed are the land managers who manage public lands, like the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.”
The Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service manage land that is the equivalent of 23 states, said Tyler. “By law, district mangers responsible for land sites are required to go to the public and get comments on how the land is being managed and what needs aren’t being met,” he said. “At the time, people come to the land managers and complain about planes landing near a stream so they want the airstrip closed because they feel we hurt wildlife and ecology with the noise from planes. We appear and say that if you have asphalt and trails into parks already, why are planes being singled out?”
This puts land managers in the middle, said Tyler. “And there have been no studies that answer the question if wildlife breeding habits are being harmed by airplanes,” he said. “We wanted a scientific study to see if this was true. So we knew what had to happen was that opposing parties needed to stand aside to get information from an impartial scientific study.”
The RAF-sponsored noise study on the effects of aircraft on wildlife in the backcountry is progressing, said Tyler. Devin Landry and Chad White of the University of Montana, under the direction of RAF Science Committee chairman Dr. Ric Hauer, conducted field studies during the summer.
Just as the RAF board was discussing this topic, the AOPA Foundation announced the grant, said Tyler. “We also happened to learn about a lab that had developed a test to analyze enzymes to see if animals are under stress,” he said. “We have more than 1,000 samples from birds, deer, bears, and other animals.”
Around Christmas is when the lab work begins, said Tyler. “We’ll get the raw data, and then the analysis will begin, which will go for another year and a half,” he said. “We’re uncertain about exact timing of the final results because the science journals have to accept it for publication and then we have to wait for the scientific community to read it and respond.”
RAF members have been flying into backcountry airports for decades, said Tyler. “We have a picture of wildlife that isn’t affected by planes. But you need more than that to convince others,” he said.