NEWS | Oct. 28, 2015

Increased measures to deter geese, prevent aircraft mishaps continue

By Christopher Anderson JB Charleston Safety director

Officials at Joint Base Charleston authorized an escalation in the base's ongoing efforts to prevent aircraft bird strikes in the vicinity of the Air Base.

Due to a large increase in the number of geese inhabiting areas surrounding the airfield and their growing immunity to other bird-removal tactics, officials approved the supervised use of firearms to decrease and deter the geese population. The goose population has increased again much like it did last year when we first initiated our off-airfield depredation plan.

Base residents need to be aware that because of this escalation there will be some instances where the U.S. Department of Agriculture may need to depredate near base housing. As an additional safety measure, the current plan is to remain one-hundred yards from the base housing perimeter. The only exception to depredation inside the base housing perimeter will occur at the pond located on W. Jackson Dr. adjacent to the Forest City housing office. The USDA will continue to use nonlethal deterrents, such as paint ball guns, inside all base housing areas.

Bird strikes, especially among large fowl like geese and vultures, pose a significant threat to aircrews, as well as people who live and work near the Air Base. Each year, civil and military aircraft strike thousands of birds and some planes--like U.S. Airways Flight 1549 which did an emergency landing in the Hudson River--crash as a result. Base leaders approved the bird-depredation tactic to prevent just such an incident.

"The installation's current plan involves necessary prudent checks and balances to prevent the risk of a safety mishap to our base members and their families," said Col Rob Lyman, Joint Base Charleston commander. "Please be assured that our team has numerous checks in place to both minimize risks and ensure the right actions are taken to prevent future strikes." said Lyman.

Before USDA representatives begin depredating efforts, they must obtain approval from the 628 ABW commander or his designated representative. The USDA representatives will coordinate with base security forces personnel, who will escort them to the scene and cordon off the area to protect the general public.

Populated areas on the installation will be assessed for risk and, if the order to remove the geese is given, will receive notification as early as possible before removal efforts begin. All firing will be done while the birds are on the ground and in such a way as to avoid any buildings, structures or people. Finally, the USDA representatives will only use birdshot, to further reduce the risk of injury or damage on base.

"We have used this tactic on the airfield for several years and we rarely find geese inhabiting that area any longer. However, a serious threat of bird strikes still remains from flocks further inside the base," said Christopher Anderson, 628 ABW Safety director.

Previously, base officials have used non-lethal tactics like loud noises and paintball guns to deter the geese. Though effective at first, the birds have since become immune, Anderson said.

Regarding what to do with the meat from any birds killed as result of the new method, the base, when possible, will transport the geese to a processor who can then donate the food  to those in need off base, Anderson said.

Officials estimate that 120 or more geese currently inhabit the Air Base, having ceased their migratory patterns, said Lt Col Markwart, 437th Airlift Wing chief of safety. These geese sometimes fly to neighboring areas for water, which can involve them crossing the arrival and departure paths of aircraft.

"If unaddressed, the population of geese on the Air Base could result in a Bird Watch Condition rating of 'severe,' which would prevent DoD aircraft from landing here," said Markwart.

For further questions about the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard program at JB Charleston, contact the Public Affairs office at (843) 963-5608.


Q&A

Q1) What is the current method of off-airfield geese removal?
A1) Our current method is to shoot and kill a select number of geese near the airfield and on the airbase, while scaring off the rest. These will be a highly-controlled and coordinated activity to reduce the risk to base employees and residents. 

Q2) Isn't this method extreme?
A2) This was never our first-choice method.  In the interest of public safety, we have been forced to expand the lethal tactics, due to the immunity the geese have developed to our earlier methods and the growing number of flocks on the air base.

Q3) When was the last time Joint Base Charleston aircraft experienced a bird strike?
A3) The most recent bird strike occurred on October 15, 2015.

Q4) How many bird strikes does the base average each year?
A4) JB Charleston has averaged 129 reported bird strikes per year to military aircraft from 2009-2015.  Multiple birds hitting an aircraft on one sortie is classified as a single strike.

Q5) Did you reach out to BASH programs at other bases to see if they have other non-lethal methods for deterring the geese before deciding to use this new method?
A5) USDA Wildlife services is in constant contact with their counterparts to discuss wildlife control measures. We made the decision to extend our depredation tactics after considering a range of options.

Q6) What are you doing to reduce the risk to base employees and families that this method presents?
A6) We've developed guidance with our Security Forces and Wing Safety members, along with our U.S. Department of Agriculture contractor, outlining a series of steps to decrease risk. Before U.S. Department of Agriculture representatives begin depredating efforts, they must obtain approval from the 628 ABW commander or his designated representative. The USDA representatives will then coordinate with base security forces personnel, who will escort them to the scene and cordon off the area to protect the general public. Populated areas on the installation will be assessed for risk and, if the order to remove the geese is given, will receive notification as early as possible before removal efforts begin. All firing will be done while the birds are on the ground and in such a way as to avoid any buildings, structures or people. Finally, the USDA representatives will only use birdshot, to further reduce the risk of injury or damage on base.

Q7) Why is the U.S. Department of Agriculture involved? Doesn't the Air Force have specialized people to handle this?
A7) Though our Air Force safety technicians receive a basic overview of managing wildlife from a safety perspective, the process of controlling wildlife is better left to a trained biological scientist. Moreover, our USDA scientist helps ensure that we comply with the various federal, state and local guidance's involved in managing wildlife.

Q8) Aren't you concerned that this might desensitize people to the open display of firearms on base?
A8) This is a unique and highly-controlled situation. The open use of firearms on base by anyone other than law enforcement officials or at the approved skeet and CATM ranges is prohibited. If you see anyone on base openly using firearms in a way not noted above, seek shelter immediately and notify Security Forces at (843) 963-3600.

Q9) Where will geese depredation occur?
A9) The program will take place in open areas around the airfield and the Air Base where the geese population tends to congregate, mainly open grassy fields, power line right of ways, etc. Populated areas on the installation will be assessed for risk and, if the order to remove the geese is given, will receive notification as early as possible before removal efforts begin.

Q10) Can I expect to be notified of nearby geese depredation prior to the event?
A10) Security forces will notify members in the vicinity prior to a depredation event. They will also establish a cordon, to keep people away from the affected area.    

Q11) What time of day will geese depredation occur? 
A11) The program will be conducted during daylight hours.

Q12) Who will be conducting the geese removal? What are their qualifications to do so safely? 
Q12) A trained United States Department of Agriculture contractor or Safety Staff member will remove the geese in coordination with the Installation Commander and Security Forces.

Q13) Is this a temporary tactic or can we expect it to be the "new normal"? 
A13) We anticipate we will use this tactic from time to time to prevent the geese from congregating near the airfield/airbase and the pattern developing seems to be an increase in geese during first few weeks of fall.

Q14) What will happen to the geese once they are shot?
A14) Where possible, we plan to donate the meat to a processor for those in need off base.

Q15) What other methods have you tried to deter geese from inhabiting the Air Base before now?
A15) Previously, we've tried scaring the geese away using loud noises and, most recently, shooting them with paintballs. Though relatively effective at first, the geese have since become immune to these tactics.  Their continued presence here poses a significant risk to military and civilian flight operations. 

Q16) What about the off-base grasslands along Michaux Parkway? I've seen geese gathered there; will depredation occur off-base as well? 
A16) No.  The Air Force does not own the land adjacent to Michaux Parkway.