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Helicopters hold off during nesting season

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Military leaders at Fort Drum have agreed not to resume helicopter training missions at Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks during the time that a rare bird is nesting on the mountain's upper slopes.

The Army originally planned to restart high-altitude helicopter training at Whiteface in July, at the height of the nesting period for Bicknell's thrush, sparking an outcry from environmentalists.

As Chris Knight reports, the training missions have now been pushed back until later this summer and fall, after newly hatched Bicknell's thrushes have left their nests.

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Reported by

Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent
Bicknell's thrushes have hatched and left their nests. In future years, the training sessions would only happen in the late fall, winter and early spring, when the bird isn't in the Adirondacks.

Most environmentalists seem satisfied with the Army's response. Now that the brigade plans to run its missions after August 1, Christopher Rimmer, executive director of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies said he's not as concerned because the birds are less vulnerable at that point. "There's no guarantee, but I certainly believe there will be fewer impacts than there would have been during the period of active nesting," he said.

Adirondack Park Agency spokesman Keith McKeever said the Army has taken steps to mitigate potential impacts to migratory birds and alpine vegetation. "To their credit, they've agreed to do some monitoring and make their training periods not coincide with when the Bicknell's thrush is known to be breeding," he said. "It appears they will also be using just a touch-and-go type of operation and landing on pavement only."

The Army issued a report last week that said the high-altitude helicopter training missions at Whiteface will have no significant environmental impact.

The training is being held at Whiteface this year in preparation for the brigade's scheduled deployment to Afghanistan in October. The Army says the training would occur Monday through Thursday, early in the morning or at dusk, when the public road to the top of Whiteface is closed to and there are no conflicts with operations of the Whiteface ski center or special events.

At a media briefing in May, brigade commander Colonel Pedro Almeida said efforts are being taken to lessen any potential impacts the helicopter activity will have on the environment and the public. "We take specific steps - things like instructing our pilots on certain areas to avoid, altitude restrictions, times of day, we take into account environmental issues, nesting areas for birds in different seasons. All of those parts and pieces with trying to fly friendly with the local community is extremely important."

About 100 members of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade will deploy to Afghanistan later this month, the rest in the fall.

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