BIRD BUSTERS! - USDA banishes 'fowl guests' outside Vance AFB

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. James Justice
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Open areas that make northwest Oklahoma a great location for a flying training base also are very inviting to some natural fliers. Unfortunately, the two groups of fliers can't safely share the same air space, especially when geese are using the fields just outside Vance Air Force Base, Okla., for their temporary base. Those fields lay directly beneath the pattern for the Air Force's second busiest flight line.

Increasing waterfowl populations, growing at nearly 8 percent per year, placed a migratory flock of more than 8,000 geese in a wheat field north of Vance. Several hundred ducks also landed there. The birds are attracted to a "buffet" of food sources offered in Enid's agricultural area.

While there were no problems enforcing bird control measures inside the base's fenced perimeter, the Air Force legally is unable to act off base. Matt Smith, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services biological science technician, said, "Vance needed help outside the fence, so they called us."

The USDA's ability to work in the area surrounding the base was critical to successfully solving the geese problem, said Capt. Jamie Baugh, Vance's chief of flight safety.

"They have capabilities that (we don't)," the captain said. "Legally they can do things (we can't)."

They served as a link between base leadership and the community to tackle the bird problem head-on by ensuring the needs of the base and its flying activities were understood by all.

Jesse Townsend, another USDA biological science technician, said, "We worked with the City of Enid and local farmers. They were happy to get the geese off their wheat."

Smith said they used a sophisticated grid system and clear communications with the base to "get the birds in the habit of landing somewhere else." The two gentlemen used pyrotechnics along with noise-makers such as "bangers" and "screamers" to disperse the birds. They also had to shoot some, but mostly used methods that did not harm the birds. Ultimately, they changed the local fields from a dinner invitation to an "unvitation."

"Now the birds see our truck coming, and they fly away," Smith said.

Communications between the supervisors of flying and the USDA techs was the key to safely dispersing the birds. Scattering the birds at the wrong moment could have caused a bird strike incident.

"(The biological science technicians) would call directly to the supervisors of flying," said Maj. Randy Sealy, 71st Operations Group SOF manager. "We'd create a break in traffic so they could deal with the birds, or we'd have them wait for aircraft to pass. It didn't slow down operations at all."

The process, which started Feb. 21 and continued through April 12, paid off in drastically reduced bird numbers.

"When we started there were 8,000 geese; now there are 25 to 30 resident geese remaining," Smith said.

The reduction in bird numbers created a safer airspace.

"The cooperation with the USDA has been amazing," Baugh said. "They told us 'We will not fail.' "

And they didn't. For the 71st Flying Training Wing, the joint venture has been a resounding success.

"You can definitely see a (dramatic) change in the amount of birds near the base," Smith said.