Hartfield-Jackson testing sheep program to clear brush

by: Diana Davis Updated:

The herd of sheep and goats are eating everything in sight just yards from Hartsfield-Jackson's fifth runway on Riverdale Road.

ATLANTA - Tackling the job of trimming grass and weeds is no small task. That's why officials at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport have brought in 100 experts: sheep and goats.

Channel 2's Diana Davis found out the news plan could be good for the environment and taxpayers.

The herd of sheep and goats are eating everything in sight just yards from Hartsfield-Jackson's fifth runway on Riverdale Road.

The airport is in the middle of a one-week test to see if the sheep can clear brush adjacent to the runways more efficiently and cheaply than men, machines and herbicide.

Chris Davis, Hartsfield- Jackson's assistant director of aviation maintenance, said the test is not costing taxpayers a cent.

"This was actually donated by an anonymous donor. We get a chance to evaluate something new and right now, it's not costing us anything," Chris Davis said.

Though the sheep love kudzu, they eat just about any kind of brush.

Brushy overgrowth is a concern at the airport not just for pilots' line of sight but to eliminate wildlife habitat that can be unsafe for airport operations.

"Birds, coyotes, deer, those animals can run and have run into the runways. By keeping the brush clear and low keeps the wildlife a little further," said Greg Levine of Trees Atlanta.

The sheep are contained by a shepherd and dogs. There's also an electric fence to keep the animals from roaming. Airport officials said if the program is brought closer to the runways, there would be more fencing added.

"We still would have to put up some type of containment fence. Those are some of the issues we would have to work out with the TSA," Chris Davis said.

The details have been worked out at two other U.S. airports. Both San Francisco International and Sea-Tac in Seattle either have or have had similar programs.

"Sea-Tac used it out in Seattle. They don't use it anymore because it wasn't cost-effective to them," said Chris Davis.

He said Hartsfield-Jackson will have to crunch the numbers to see if it will work in Atlanta.

The sheep are the same ones that were used successfully to clear kudzu and brush at five city parks over the summer, including Chastain Park.

So far the jets don't seem to bother the sheep or the dogs, according to Brian Cash of "Eweniversally Green."

"We were curious to see what their reaction would be when we first brought them out here. They never even looked in the direction of the planes. They're so used to all the city sounds that not much shakes them at this point," Cash said.

Cash said the sheep can eat about 25 percent of their body weight. In the last couple of days they've cleared nearly two acres near the runways.


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