Over the years, PhD student Elizabeth Rutledge has studied and worked with many aspects of natural resources. After 6 years of working at Grandfather Mountain, an undergraduate degree in Biology from Wingate University, and a summer internship with wildlife in Hawaii, Elizabeth knew she wanted to go to graduate school. She received her MS in Natural Resources – Assessment and Analysis Technical Option at North Carolina State University (NCSU), working on growth regulation in Fraser Fir Christmas trees. While obtaining this degree, she served as a teaching assistant for many wildlife classes. From this, she decided to study Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology for her PhD.
Elizabeth and her advisors, Drs. Chris DePerno and Chris Moorman, developed a research project involving the monitoring of resident Canada geese to reduce the risk for goose-aircraft collisions around urban airports. They prepared grant applications and found funding and support from a variety of sources including USDA/APHIS/WS, NC DOT Aviation, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the Berryman Institute. Elizabeth also received a Hofmann Scholarship for the first 3 years of her PhD project at NCSU. Specifically, Elizabeth assessed the movement of resident Canada geese around Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTIA) in Greensboro, North Carolina. Additional research components include evaluating disease prevalence rates in resident Canada geese, determining goose recolonization rates post-removal, and encouraging the public not to feed waterfowl.
In 2008, approximately 780 resident Canada geese around PTIA were neck and leg banded and their movements were observed for two years. This meant spending 2-3 days a week observing geese in the Greensboro area. Additionally, seventeen of the banded geese were tracked with Argos/GPS telemetry units for a year and a half. Elizabeth analyzed the GPS data to determine how often geese cross airport runways, at what speed and altitude, and where they forage and roost. An additional concern is waterfowl use of retention/detention ponds within the vicinity of PTIA. Most are environmental mitigation ponds associated with office buildings or residential areas. The data also showed how often resident Canada geese are accessing these ponds. Her dissertation summarizes results from all of these research components to provide useful guidelines to minimize the impact of resident Canada geese on flight traffic and was completed in December 2013.
While the FAA and airport staff has had growing concerns about wildlife strikes for years, this project temporarily became more high profile after the 2009 accident in New York. Although the public and major media may have moved on to new issues, as long as the geese and other animals are around, the issue remains one of concern.