Orlando Sanford International Airport’s Runway Safety Area (RSA)
Gopher Tortoise Wildlife Challenge
The Orlando Sanford International Airport’s Runway Safety Area (RSA) has become a home for Gopherus Polyphemuses or Gopher Tortoises. Expected reaction: move them, fill in their holes = problem solved. Not so!!!
SFB wildlife management over 6 years (2008 and 2014), had to carefully excavate over 875 “gopher holes” and removed 345 tortoises, plus their tenants (the burrows are habitats for diamondback rattlesnakes, eastern indigo snakes, frogs, bluetail male skinks, giant whipscorpion spiders, mice and crickets). Those evictions require caution and time. Transferring these animals to new homes also involves time and planning. The burrows and the tortoises are protected under federal law.
The Sanford program cost the airport almost $400,000. The tortoises are stubborn; most have returned to the RSA and reestablished their residences there.
Under Part 139, airports must maintain their RSAs free of pot holes, bumps, or other hazardous surface variations. Pilots depend on a RSA free of surface deviations to maintain safe control of the aircraft during runway excursions. These substantial cavities in this critical safety zone would not be helpful to an airplane attempting to use the RSA for its purposes. Many airports in the FAA’s Southern Region probably face this challenge (map shows the habitat area for the gopher tortoises):
One solution had been to use artificial turf in the RSA, which stifles the tortoises’ tremendous capability to dig (with forefeet well adapted for burrowing, and elephantine hind feet). Here are photographs portraying this strategy:
Sounds like an interesting way to address this wildlife challenge.