A close eye on wildlife at Columbus AFB
By Kyle VanWhy, United States Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services
/ Published March 30, 2007
COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
You may have seen the USDA-1 truck driving around the airfield, base, or local roads and wonder "who is that guy and what is he doing?" The answer usually would be observing wildlife, and at Columbus AFB the United States Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services program has been conducting this type of work for almost 4 years in an effort to increase aviation safety. At CAFB wildlife management is conducted under three main categories; habitat management, education and direct control. These management actions all require observational data collected while surveying to increase their effectiveness in reducing wildlife related threats.
The most effective wildlife control tool is to manage habitat, remove why an animal wants to use an area and they will usually go find another place to play, feed, sleep, or loaf around. This is often easier said than done since most wildlife species are sneaky, how else would Wilie E. Coyote have gotten his name. It often takes a trained eye and multiple observations to determine the reasons why an animal or a group of animals might be using a location. The goal of all our wildlife surveys is to document the species, behavior, habitats and determine if there are any temporal and spatial factors that relate to their use of the airfield or flight path. We use this data to recommend habitat management that will deter use and review project plans and make recommendations to prevent the creation of attractive hazards.
An often overlooked method that is extremely effective method of wildlife control is education of the public, and since Columbus is an education facility it fits right in to the mission of the base. Wildlife are not very good at reading regulations and those that do take the time to read them often don't pay attention to what they say. This is why we use our observational data to create education materials on wildlife threat areas at the local and landscape level. An example of this is identifying local roosting areas for birds off of Columbus. Mississippi is at the bottom of the Mississippi Flyway, the biggest bird migration corridor in North America. Many bird species winter in the mild southern states, and they arrive in large numbers during this season. Many of these species congregate together at feeding and roosting sites for protections, so being able to document these areas and education pilots on where and when the highest concentration of birds will be in a certain area can significantly help reduce threats. If you ever travel south on Highway 45 into Columbus in the morning or evening, just take a peak at the tower on the left side of the road once you pass Spivey Road and you will see a prime example of where a large roost of vultures has occurred for a few years.
Another method that is used at Columbus AFB to deter wildlife from use of the airfield environment is direct control. The primary method of direct control is non-lethal harassment, teaching wildlife that the airfield environment is not a desirable place to use. By observing and documenting wildlife behavior and habitat use it is easier to determine control methods that will be effective. As an example, by recording wildlife movement and potential feeding sites the remote operated bird cannons that are often heard early mornings can be moved to deter movement across the airfield. By harassing animals away from their preferred travel corridors, most wildlife will avoid the airfield entirely.
These three examples of habitat management, education, and control are all made possible by conducting surveys during varying times of the day, night, year, and across the landscape (on and off base). This data is entered into Geographic Imaging System software. GIS is a very common tool and is used more than when someone wants to see a satellite photo of their house on the internet. Data can be combined using varying types of this software and analyzed to help uncover issues that are not always obvious. Combining information over time allows for a better assessment and allows for more effective management at all levels.
So next time the USDA-1 truck is seen driving around at night with a spotlight, or sitting on the side of a runway he's trying to make Columbus a safer place.