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San Antonio To Move Forward With Elmendorf Lake Bird Removal In November

Egrets and other bird species can be found on a rookery island at Elmendorf Lake Park.
David Martin Davies | Texas Public Radio
Egrets and other bird species can be found on a rookery island at Elmendorf Lake Park.

The City of San Antonio is moving ahead with its plan to clear cattle egrets and other bird species from a rookery island at Elmendorf Lake Park.

The birds have been linked to potential threats to pilots and planes at Joint Base San Antonio’s Kelly Field. They make frequent trips to a landfill on the South Side to feed — and cross Kelly’s runway in the process. 

According to JBSA officials, local collisions between birds and aircraft, known as bird strikes, are increasing and affecting operational readiness. 

In a Tuesday briefing before San Antonio’s Military Transformation Task Force, Tim Woliver of the city’s Office of Military and Veteran Affairs said removal efforts would likely begin in mid to late November — after the youngest birds at the rookery have fledged.

“You can’t endanger those birds that are already there while they’re growing. But once they’ve fledged and left the nest, then the City of San Antonio — the Parks Department — will go in and clear out underbrush... to not have a habitat that is attractive to the egrets,” he said.

City action is dependent on approval from U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enforces federal Migratory Bird Act protections. Woliver reported that, as of late September, approximately 10 nests on the island contained nestlings.

“They [the USDA] are out there weekly monitoring, seeing what the status of the nests are,” he said. “So, once they say they've observed no birds and nests, then they give their approval, and then the City of San Antonio can begin the habitat modification part.”

Credit Carson Frame / TPR News
A diagram of the city's plan for bird mitigation at Elmendorf Lake Park.

First steps will involve clearing of underbrush, vegetation and dead trees. Woliver explained that the USDA would then come in with sight deterrents like air dancers — inflatable fabric tubes attached to electrical fans — and noisemakers to discourage the birds from returning to the island. 

“It’s all very humane,” Woliver said. “No shooting of birds, nothing of that nature.”

After Woliver completed his briefing, Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff asked him for clarification about the timeline for the birds’ removal, given that some are still nesting late in the year. 

“Let me make sure I’ve got the short version,” Wolff said. “A little delayed, but it’s getting done?”

“Yes,” Woliver responded. 

“Do you see anything that’s going to stop it from being done?” Wolff said.

“No,” said Woliver. 

“We’re not going to allow a delay. We’ve already had a delay,” added Juan Ayala, director of the city’s Office of Military and Veteran Affairs. “The dilemma and the frustration for us is that every day that goes by is a day that we risk pilot safety, pilot crews. That’s hard to explain to the advocates out there. In my opinion, there’s a tacit disregard for these crews.” 

Wolff directed Ayala to inform him as soon as possible if the bird mitigation plan ran into any problems.

Previously-held public meetings on the topic have given way to tense debates between residents, naturalists, city officials and the military. Critics of the Elmendorf Lake Park rookery clearance plan have argued that it may not keep the birds away permanently. They also take issue with the bird strike data provided by the military. 

No further public meetings are scheduled at this time. 

Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.

Carson Frame can be reached carson@tpr.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame