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Todd Pitlik: humanely protecting the skies around LAX

August 22, 2009 |  8:36 pm


Earlier this year a flock of wild geese met their demise when they crossed the path of a US Airways jet that quickly crash-landed in the Hudson River.  Many looked at that incident as a rarity, but there is an encounter between an animal and a commercial plane at LAX almost every week, on average. People like Todd Pitlik of the USDA are paid to minimize such incidents.

His job is to control the wildlife populations at LAX, where more than 940 animal strikes involving commercial aircraft were reported between 1990 and 2008. About 4% of the collisions caused substantial damage to engines, wings and fuselages.

Pitlik's work isn't easy. LAX's 3,500 acres just east of the Pacific Ocean contain a menagerie of birds and small mammals that inhabit the drainage ditches, trees, dunes and grassy flats that surround the four runways of the nation's third-busiest airport.

Red foxes dash across the tarmac. Kestrels hover along the final approaches. Sea gulls rummage for scraps of food while red tail hawks and peregrine falcons dive for live prey. One year, young pelicans that had eaten toxic algae and fish were dropping on the runways.

"Wildlife situations can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous," said Pitlik, 46, who has worked at LAX since the late 1990s. "It is important to minimize the risk and liability, but it's also important to take care of the wildlife."

What does Pitlik do with some of the birds he traps? He gives the falcons and hawks to South Bay Wildlife Rehab, a local non-profit that cares for orphaned and injured birds and other animals.

Click here to read the whole article about LAX and its challenges with wildlife; it is currently the most-e-mailed story of the day.

-- Tony Pierce

USDA wildlife biologist Todd Pitlik holds a red-tailed hawk that was captured in a trap at LAX on July 8, 2009. Pitlik is responsible for controlling the bird, mammal and reptile populations at LAX, the nation's third-busiest airport. The hawk is tagged and will be relocated. Pitlik's work is designed to prevent the type of problem that forced a US Airways A320 into the Hudson River a few months ago. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

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