Each year, civil and military aircraft strike thousands of birds. The Federal Aviation Administration annually reports at least 2,300 wildlife related strikes involving civil aircraft; the Air Force and Navy/Marine Corps report at least an additional 3,000. Strikes involving military aircraft cause in excess of $75 million in damage every year. Yet only an estimated 20 percent of actual bird strikes are reported. Because pilots and crews use the same low altitude airspace as large concentrations of birds, the prevention of bird strikes is of serious concern to the military.
The Department of Defense (DoD) continually implements and improves aviation safety programs in an effort to provide the safest flying conditions possible. One of these programs is the Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) prevention program. Throughout the military, air operations, aviation safety, and natural resources personnel work together to reduce the risk of bird and wildlife strikes through the Operational Risk Management process. Development and implementation of an effective BASH program requires constant interaction between air station's natural resources, aviation safety, and air operations communities as well as the pilots and aircrews. Habitat modifications and scaring birds away from the runways is an integral part of the answer, but understanding the behavior and movements of birds in relation to the airfield environment and military training routes by pilots and aircrews is also a critical factor in reducing bird strikes.
Knowing what types of birds and animals are using the airfield environment throughout the year is critical to reducing BASH risks. A Wildlife Hazard Assessment will identify areas of the airfield that are attractive to wildlife and provide recommendations to remove or modify the attractive feature. Corrective recommendations may include placing anti-perching devices on equipment, removing unused airfield equipment to eliminate perch sites, wiring streams and ponds, removing brush/trees, using pyrotechnics, or changing the grass mowing program.
By identifying the bird species involved and the location of the strike, researchers and airport managers can better understand why the species is attracted to a particular area of the airfield or training route. To identify birds involved in strike events, remains of the birds must be collected and turned in for analysis. If the remains are only snarge (blood, bits of tissue, and goo) or feather fragments, these are sent to the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian Feather Identification Lab can do DNA analysis on blood samples as well as microscopic feather analysis. Using a feather bank developed for the military and civilian aviation communities, the Smithsonian Institution can analyze the micro-structure of the barbs from the sample to narrow down a bird involved in a birdstrike event to species. In knowing the species of bird involved in a birdstrike event, managers can investigate its habitat and food habits, and begin the process of reducing or eliminating the attractants.
Technology is also advancing BASH risk reduction effectiveness. Radar ornithology uses radar images obtained from the National Weather Service's WSR-88D Doppler radar or mobile radar units to track migrating birds and important stop over areas. GIS layers of bird radar activity can be layered with actual low level route information along with historic birdstrike data. Some of the tools using radar technology include the Bird Avoidance Model (BAM), Avian Hazard Advisory System (AHAS), and mobile marine radars that are implemented at the airfield.
Monitoring Working Group
Significant progress has been achieved in recent years to better identify an efficient, coordinated approach to monitoring avian resources. Monitoring has historically been done without much consideration for monitoring actions outside a given agency, and sometimes without a clear articulation of what management question is being targeted. With limited budgets and resources, it is imperative that we maximize the effectiveness of any monitoring project, including the archiving and analysis of monitoring data.
In February 2007, the Monitoring Sub-committee of the US North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) released its report “Opportunities for improving avian monitoring” (http://www.nabci-us.org). The report, prepared by a distinguished panel of 16 experts in bird monitoring, emphasizes the importance of clearly understanding the management issues that monitoring will be used to address before initiating new surveys. The report establishes 4 goals and contains 4 recommendations to achieve these goals. A series of action items is also presented by which the recommendations and goals can be achieved. DoD has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with other agencies endorsing the report.
Two other notable, recent events in bird monitoring were the signing of an MOU (pursuant to Executive Order 13186) between DoD and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “to promote the conservation of migratory birds” and the adoption of a Final Rule pertaining to “take of migratory birds by the Armed Forces”. The MOU became effective on August 30, 2006; the final rule became effective on March 30, 2007. Both measures include strong language on the importance of monitoring bird populations.
In order to effectively address the requirements set forth in the 2003 National Defense Authorization Act and Executive Order 13186, a comprehensive, coordinated avian monitoring strategy needs to be implemented. Coordinated Bird Monitoring (CBM) is a movement and an approach to monitoring, led by the landbird and shorebird initiatives, that has already produced numerous products. The vision of CBM is that monitoring should be:
- Implemented through partnerships
CBM is an effort to increase efficiency and utility of bird monitoring through improved coordination between the bird conservation initiatives, between field workers and statisticians, and between decision-makers and technical experts. Major components of CBM include improving the infrastructure for monitoring and development of Regional and Organizational CBM Plans. Improving monitoring infrastructure looks at:
- Conceptual framework (vision, goals, objectives)
- Long-term, large-scale programs (how many, what kind)
- Agreement on field survey methods
- A robust data management system
- Defining appropriate reports and the responsibilities for producing them
Navy Natural Resources and Land Management Program
The Navy and Marine Corps manage more than four million acres worldwide. Much of this land is located in sensitive wetlands along valuable coastlines, some of the most ecologically significant areas in the world. The location of Navy real estate holdings makes it imperative that the Navy plans and executes various military missions in harmony with our environment. It is a Department of the Navy goal to promote an environmental protection ethic within the Navy workforce.
The Department of the Navy supports numerous partnerships with other Federal, state, local and private resource groups to promote such programs as the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation, Wetlands Protection and Enhancement, and Watchable Wildlife.
To succeed in its mission, and to earn public confidence, the Navy must emphasize natural resources stewardship in every aspect of its land use. It does. Come see for yourself and discover our resources.
Naval Air Station Kingsville’s mission is to provide operational and support facilities for the Naval Air Training Command and associated activities. This installation consists of two main land areas totaling 9800 acres: the main air station and support facilities, and Auxiliary Landing Field Orange Grove, located about 40 miles northwest of the air station. In addition, NAS Kingsville owns and operates two practice target areas and more than 6,000 acres in McMullen County, about 90 miles northwest of the air station, and a recreational hunting facility comprising just over 6,500 acres.
NAS Kingsville’s home base is situated just west of the City of Kingsville in Kleberg County, in the Coastal Bend area of Texas, one of the most productive bird habitats in North America. Specific habitat types include laurel oak-redbay woodlands, mesquite and deciduous woodlands, meadows and saline wetlands. Because much of the air station property is surrounded by ranch and farm land, wetlands, outlying fields and runway clear zones provide natural habitat. This results in bird / airstrike hazard as a primary management concern.