Airport habitat

SHERIDAN – Some residents near the Chautauqua County Airport at Dunkirk have taken issue with the removal of a significant number of trees and plant life in the area there.

On Monday, Gale VerHague of Forestville and Marty Sanden of Dunkirk sent comments to the OBSERVER criticizing the act as destroying a vital resource to Chautauqua County’s beauty, as well as a precious habitat for living creatures.

The removal of the vegetation has mainly taken place along Cook Road in the town of Sheridan and it began sometime late last week.

“This is really sad. All around western New York, there is very little habitat remaining for the diminishing grassland bird species such as meadowlarks, horned larks, upland sandpipers, Savannah and grasshopper sparrows. Many of the sightings of these bird species are at airports,” Sanden wrote. “At the Dunkirk Airport, trees seem to be reasonably distant from runways. And tall grass should not in any way hinder takeoffs and landings.”

VerHague agreed, adding Airport Road has flooded on a number of occasions and has previously forced closures after heavy rains. She believes that without any significant vegetation nearby to act as a buffer, the road will now fare even worse than before.

“The wooded areas that the northern shrike were so fond of in the winter are now gone,” VerHague wrote. “The tall grassy areas where the meadowlarks, bobolinks, grasshopper and Savannah sparrows were being seen and probably nesting have also been mowed. They usually mow later than this, but the trees too?”

George Spanos, director of the Chautauqua County Department of Public Facilities, explained in a phone interview the trees are being removed due to concerns regarding sightlines for landing at one of the runways at the airport.

In other words, the now-downed trees apparently posed a safety risk to pilots.

“… The trees next to the airport there are an obstruction and are within the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) area,” Spanos explained. “They are interfering with the airspace and so, by FAA rules, they must be removed.”

An official at the Dunkirk Airport declined to comment on the tree removal project.

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