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Air Force-USDA partnership: Providing wildlife mitigation tactics

  • Published
  • By Capt. Korey Fratini
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Birds and wildlife can always pose a threat to aircraft operations in any location that aircraft are taking off, landing, or flying. In order to prevent a catastrophic event from occurring it takes a dedicated team to mitigate the effects of birds and wildlife on an airfield.

In a close partnership between the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Safety office and the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services they are able to find solutions to ensure air operations continue as safely as possible.

“The broader relationship is based on safety’s execution of the BASH [Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard] program, which is to prevent bird and wildlife hazards from becoming a factor for aircraft operations,” says Lt. Col. James Cooper, 455th AEW chief of safety.

Airmen who are deployed to the 455th AEW Safety office currently work alongside Mr. Ben Allen, USDA wildlife specialist and biologist. In the United States, Allen works at the Denver International Airport providing wildlife services to civilian aviation operations.

“Wildlife services is a wealth of knowledge,” says Allen. “We bring background. Wildlife services, this is what we do. It’s not necessarily wildlife management as much as it is wildlife knowledge.”

Here together, their mission is to prevent bird and wildlife aircraft strikes to military and civilian aircraft that operate in and out of Bagram Airfield. But, the USDA partnership allows that individual (USDA personnel) to be solely focused on bird and wildlife management using the knowledge they bring.

“In the areas where we have the highest problems, it is one of the most effective means [USDA partnership] to use the USDA and use that expertise and leverage it,” says Cooper

There are a variety of methods to mitigate bird and wildlife issues. These methods can range from fireworks that make popping noises or flashes, using sirens and air cannons to wildlife depredation if necessary. In addition to these tactics both organizations work to change the habitat around the airfield to make it less enticing for birds and other animals. Changes in types of grass or removing certain features on the airfield play a key role in changing the environment.

Allen not only conducts mitigation tactics on the airfield but he also conducts research and analysts on birds and wildlife. With this data Allen is able to provide the Air Force a much better picture of the issues pertaining to wildlife at Bagram Airfield.

“I collect survey data and put it into a Geographic Information System Trimble unit that a gentleman back home is going to be able to make maps to tell the story better,” says Allen. “So what I do during the day is go out with a map of the airfield and anytime I remove anything or disperse anything I put a spot down on the map, record that and bring it back to the office and put it into the Trimble unit. The same thing goes for my bird or wildlife surveys.”

In the long term this data will be able to build maps and display the issues on the airfield in a visual way. Allen argues that these maps will give people a better understanding of the actual issues facing the airfield.

Along with the informational data that is collected, Allen also sends back physical specimens to the Feather ID Lab at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Researchers at the Smithsonian can then produce data on the exact kind of wildlife that is present at Bagram.

All this is important because Bagram Airfield operates a variety of missions with a variety of aircraft including C-130s, C-17s, F-16s and HH-60s. It is imperative that people have a better understanding of these wildlife issues to ensure that crucial air operations supporting tasks throughout Afghanistan can continue safely.

“It’s a whole problem approach looking at the habitat, the patterns and the species and learning about what we can do to make the airfield less attractive for them,” says Cooper. “The goal of the BASH program is to reduce the impact of wildlife that’s here on our ongoing operations.”