Safe runways focus of BASH team

  • Published
  • By Kimberly Woodruff 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The Bird Air Strike Hazard team at Tinker Air Force Base has been keeping the runways safe for pilots during the heaviest times for migratory birds to travel.

The need for BASH teams came about following the E-3 crash of Yukla-27 at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska on Sept. 22, 1995. The aircraft hit a flock of geese at the end of their runway causing the accident that claimed the lives of 24 souls on board that day.

BASH is now an Air Force wide program to control bird airstrike hazards.

“We’re located on the central flyway for migratory birds heading south for the winter, so many birds that migrate, comes through Oklahoma,” said Ray Moody, Natural Resources biologist. “We are most concerned with big birds such as duck, geese, seagulls and even pelicans but smaller birds that form large flocks like starlings are of concern too. To put a number to it, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimate 38 million ducks and two million geese fly through here.”

To alert flyers of pending dangers with birds, the BASH team watches for birds every day and use everything from phone apps to binoculars to monitor migrating populations. Bird sightings reported by hunters also contribute to the efforts. The data gathered allows Moody to determine if flying squadrons need to be alerted of bird risks.

“We make the airfield unattractive to birds,” said Moody. “We keep the grass height at specific heights and nests away from the runway. We have even used rocket nets to gather and move birds, but there is a list of birds of conservation concern such as birds of prey that are protected and we have to contact FWS when we even haze those birds.”

Moody added that the permit for handling the birds has a lot of conditions and he trains the BASH team on these conditions since he is responsible for the permit.

“If you don’t know your birds, you could be violating the law,” said Moody. “Everyone is versed with it, we all have degrees and we have to know the birds and know their status.

“Whooping cranes are endangered, so you could be in some trouble if you take one of them. The policy is that we do everything we can do to scare, move, and when that fails, we are allowed to take birds on a limited basis. It works, it is an integrated program that makes Tinker a safer place to fly. We are lucky where we’re at, we don’t have a lot of attractions for birds, but it is important how we manage it, and how we manage the land.”

Moody said once the birds starts nesting, they are protected and off limits.

“We’ve had to modify habitats on and off base, preventing large roosting sites for egrets and herons” said Clark Baker with the U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife biologist stationed at Tinker AFB. John Krupovage Natural Resources manager added “We had a pond that we had to drain because it was close to the airfield and drawing a lot of birds. “The other thing is some of our ponds had islands and geese love islands, so we dozed off the top of the islands making it safer.”

Moody said Tinker has agreements the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife conservation and with Del City and Midwest City in a group effort to create out of season hunting to help control the resident goose populations.

The BASH team isn’t only limited to watching out for birds. There are also deer, beaver and other animals to be concerned with getting near the runway.

Baker said it is good to work closely with Tinker’s Natural Resources team.

Moody agrees and said it is valuable to have the USDA team in the office with them.

“We benchmarked it for other bases and it is standard now,” said Moody. “The USDA is  sometimes housed with safety, but here at Tinker all the  biologists are housed together because to be successful, we have to communicate all the time.”

Side note: For urban pests on base such as skunks, mice, bugs or nuisance animals, residents or building managers should call Entomology at 734-3848.