By STEVEN WILLIAMS
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
HANNIBAL, Mo. -- The city of Hannibal has approved an organization affiliated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to discharge firearms at Hannibal Regional Airport to thin the white-tailed deer population.
Mark Rees, city engineer, said getting permission to discharge firearms within city limits was the final step to getting the process started and improve the safety at the airport. The city received a grant and selected Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, affiliated with the USDA, to cut down on the population.
The grant is 100 percent subsidized by the USDA and will not cost the city anything. The process will be completed by May 1, Rees said.
"We looked into allowing certain people, bow hunters, it all just seemed too unwieldy to manage," Rees said. "This falling into our lap is almost a godsend."
Rees said the group will use high-powered, suppressed weapons and night-vision. The operation will be coordinated with the Department of Conservation and the Hannibal Police Department.
Rees said nearby property owners shouldn't worry about the operation.
"These guys are professional. They're not law enforcement officers but they're affiliated with the USDA and they would take extreme caution in all of their operations," Rees said. "There's no problem jeopardizing any property at all and I wouldn't anticipate there being (a problem)."
George Walley, a member of the Airport Advisory Board, said deer have been an increasing problem for some time. The airport has sought assistance from the city for a solution since 2011.
He said pilots have noticed an increasing amount of deer in the last few years.
"We've had repeated incidences of pilots saying they had to go around because they saw deer on the runway," he said.
Walley said the airport lacks a perimeter fence but hopes to construct one with its plans to extend its runway in the future. He said there hasn't been any instances of a plane striking a deer to his knowledge, but the increased activity raises concerns.
In the past, the airport has handled issues with geese. Walley said the USDA informed the advisory board that deer typically remain a half-mile from where they are born, so the problem would likely get worse. A perimeter fence would likely solve the issue, but he said the estimated $500,000 cost was not an option in the short term.
Rees said fallen deer would be given to Missouri's Share the Harvest program. The Missouri Department of Conservation program offers donated venison to Missourians in need.
The airport will remain open for the duration of the process.