BTS Program Inspects 200 Flights and Cargo

For the month of September, the Brown Tree Snake (BTS) Interdiction Program, under the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, Division of Fish and Wildlife, inspected over 210 flights, maritime vessels and accompanying cargo to the Commonwealth.

According to Acting Secretary for Lands and Natural Resources Augustin Kaipat, the interdiction program uses canine detection teams to screen arrivals and cargo from Guam, maintains snake surveillance trapping in and around the air and sea ports of entry for the early detection of BTS, ensures adequate program capacity to initiate a rapid response to potential BTS sightings, and coordinates on-going BTS public awareness and outreach program within the CNMI.

Brown Tree Snake program coordinator Kevin Donmoyer noted that in September over 200 aircraft inspections for arriving commercial aircrafts on Saipan holding over 177,000 pounds of cargo were completed, with over 21 vessels inspected on Tinian and Rota.

“Airports in the CNMI are operated by an ever changing and expanding number of international commercial carriers, but the Brown Tree Snake Interdiction Program is only concerned with domestic flights inbound from the island of Guam. These carriers include Star Marianas, Cape Air (United), Delta, Arctic Circle Air, and Micronesia Air Cargo. Commercial aircraft inspections are crucial which means that inspections are also done for sea vessels and military vessels as well,” Donmoyer said.

Donmoyer added that flights are met by a BTS detector canine and handler, who inspect cargo and locations on the aircraft where BTS have been known to hide such as within landing gear. He shares that in the event a canine and handler are unavailable, non-canine trained staff perform a detailed visual inspection of the aircraft and cargo.

“Our goal is to inspect 100 percent of arrivals and cargo from Guam, even ones categorized as low risk. Our current inspection rate is close to 98 percent,” he said.

Acting Secretary Kaipat further added that in terms of military flight inspection, airports are used for staging and refueling of U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft.

“The island of Tinian also possesses a Military Use Area as part of the international airport and the North Field training area, which makes up two thirds of the northern portion of the island, where trainings and exercises regularly occur. Most military vehicles and cargo deploy directly from Guam, making them a significant BTS hazard for the CNMI. Prior to departing Guam vehicles and cargo are required to be inspected by USDA Wildlife Services, but the Brown Tree Snake Program also performs secondary searches upon arrival in the CNMI,” he said.

Governor Ralph DLG. Torres expressed that the Brown Tree Snake program has been key to safeguarding our ecosystem and our community.

“It is important to recognize the efforts of our personnel who have for years maintained this program, and continue these inspections. In the past, we’ve heard of snake sightings and we’ve been so fortunate to say that our Commonwealth is brown tree snake free and that our bird population is thriving. As Customs continues its crucial inspections that help our economy and prevent the influx of drugs, BTS’ perseverance has helped preserve our current bird habitat and ecosystem,” Governor Torres said.

Donmoyer added that after inspections, trapping is the second line of defense against brown tree snakes.

“Traps can catch snakes that may have been missed by canines and handlers during inspections. Permanent snake traps are installed at all airports and seaports within the CNMI. Occasionally temporary traps are installed, but this is usually special-case scenarios such as military exercises or rapid response actions,” Donmoyer said.

He added that the program houses a mouse colony in which traps are baited with a live mouse which is kept alive by a block comprised of paraffin wax mixed with bird seed for food and a potato to supply water.

The last snake to be trapped outside of Guam was on the island of Rota in August of 2014. The last BTS found on an aircraft in the CNMI occurred in 2000 on the island of Saipan.

If residents see a snake they are asked to kill it and immediately call 28-SNAKE (287-6253).

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