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USDA helps keep wildlife off Scott's flightline

  • Published
  • By Samantha Crane
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
In 1905, Orville Wright documented the first known bird strike in his journal after a flight over a corn field in Dayton, Ohio. Since then, wildlife strikes have been a common obstacle to aviation. From 1990 to 2008, there were more than 100,000 known strikes from the civilian and military sectors combined.

To combat the problem, the Air Force Safety Center created the Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard, or BASH, program. Locally, the 375th Air Mobility Wing BASH team is made up of the 375th AMW Safety Office, Airfield Management and 375th Civil Engineer Squadron to name a few. At the beginning of this year, the United States Department of Agriculture joined the team.

According to USDA's Wildlife Damage Management website,, "wildlife is a highly dynamic and mobile resource that can damage agricultural and industrial resources, pose risks to human and health safety, and affect other natural resources."

With a goal of reducing the number of strike incidents within the Air Force while also preserving wildlife, many bases now work jointly with a USDA counterpart to alleviate conflicts between humans and wildlife.

Currently, Erica McDonald, USDA Wildlife Biologist, fills the role at Scott.

"I am assisting Scott AFB to further develop their BASH program by assessing the current risks and providing management options to help make the best use of available resources," she said.

Instead of looking for a decrease in reports since her arrival, McDonald is hoping for something more.

"We're looking for greater awareness of the hazards wildlife strikes pose and this may result in an increase in reporting, but we hope to also see a decrease in the number of damaging or significant strikes," she said. "As BASH programs develop and there is a greater awareness of the risks strikes pose, reporting tends to increase due to awareness while threats are mitigated and addressed."

While birds account for 97.5 percent of all animal strikes at Scott, the BASH team deals with a wide range of wildlife.

"There is no end to the wildlife that calls our base home," Maj. Bryan Barroqueiro, 375th AMW chief of flight safety. "Erica has identified and mitigated species ranging from the ubiquitous European starling to the red-tail hawk, beaver, dear and coyote."

Recently, McDonald has dealt mainly with the trapping and relocation of red-tail hawks and has moved five back into a safer habitat already.

In addition to trapping and relocating, many measures are in place to help keep these animals and birds away from the runway. These include a mowing regimen to reduce wildlife attraction to the airfield, pyrotechnics to scare animals and birds away and restrictions on flights during times identified as high-strike risk periods. The BASH team also works with MidAmerica Airport to ensure wildlife hazards in all areas are addressed appropriately.

"Habitat management should be the foundation of any BASH plan, and here at Scott with approximately 700 acres of wetland and forest between the runways, habitat is a challenge," said McDonald.

Almost 75 percent of strikes occur at or below 500 feet above ground level when most planes are on takeoff or descent, which makes the airfield itself the primary focus of BASH efforts.

"We are collecting new resources and tools to address this issue," said McDonald. "We are also working toward having a person dedicated to monitoring and responding to wildlife activity to alleviate the situations as they arise and implement an adaptive program."

Other members of the BASH team agree that the addition of McDonald to the team has been much more than just an extra set of hands.

"Having USDA involvement at Scott has been a true boon to our capacity," said Barroqueiro. "Erica's presence has brought scientific backing to our BASH plan and allowed us to not only mitigate, but also monitor and conserve the species present at our field."