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Sunday, July 3, 2022

Logan homeowner concerned about avian flu risk after finding dead turkey vultures

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

LOGAN — A Cache County homeowner hoping a solution will emerge over a potential avian flu hazard in his backyard as he cautions others about the potential risk.

Bruce Jorgensen said the turkey vultures that have resided in the tall trees behind his Logan house for over a decade have always left quite a mess.

“They poop a lot,” he said Monday, shrugging. “That’s been a pain, but this year it’s a biohazard.”

Jorgensen said he was already aware of an avian flu outbreak when he found two of the birds dead on his property last week. He said testing subsequently determined the deceased turkey vultures had the disease.

According to Jorgensen, wildlife officers and health officials cautioned him not to touch any of the birds and provided him with instructions on how to mitigate the risk on the property.

Because turkey vultures are considered protected wildlife, however, under the jurisdiction of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokesperson confirmed that officers could not remove the birds and could only suggest how to potentially “haze” them from the trees and occasionally help with that process.

“Yeah, put up balloons,” Jorgensen nodded.

He said he bought a couple, including one that said, “I’m Sorry,” and launched them into the trees to no avail.

“It’s just not viable to put a balloon up that high in a forest and have it magically stay up there to scare the birds,” Jorgensen said.

He estimated as many as three dozen turkey vultures called the trees home. Even though he has routinely and carefully cleaned his backyard, much of the area under the trees on Monday evening was still heavily littered with bird droppings.

Given that avian flu is often transmitted through fecal droppings, Jorgensen expressed concerns about the ongoing health risk.

“Everywhere you look, there’s poop stains and the smell of Clorox,” he said.

The guidance from the Utah DWR stated that while the current strain of avian flu presented a “low risk” to people, it still was transmissible to humans, as evidenced by a recent case in Colorado.

The division urged people not to touch dead birds if they see them. If they see a bunch of dead birds — five or more — including waterfowl, shorebirds, wild turkeys, quail, raptors and scavengers found near waterfowl habitats, those people were to contact a local DWR office or call 801-538-4700.

Additional guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes further information on what to do to stay safe.

“My preferred option would be to euthanize them,” Jorgensen said. “I don’t know that you can come to downtown Logan and start shooting them.”

Jorgensen said with the protected status of the birds, he wasn’t sure what the solution was, but hoped one emerged.

“Everywhere they sit, they contaminate,” Jorgensen said.

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