HomeNewsArticle Display

USDA, Michigan Air Guard program cuts risk of bird collisions

Tony Aderman, Agriculture Department district supervisor, and Dane Williams, wildlife specialist, check Swedish goshawk traps at Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Mich., as part of the base's Bird/wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) program, Oct. 29, 2019. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Andrew Layton)

ALPENA, Mich. (AFNS) --

The flightline at Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center is a busy place.

As the year-round host for training events like Northern Strike – the Defense Department's largest joint reserve-component exercise – it's not uncommon to see more than 60 aircraft on Alpena's tarmac. During exercise Northern Strike 19, more than 450 flights launched from the airfield over two weeks.

Adding to this high-intensity operations tempo, military aircraft aren't the only wings soaring over the base.

Located in the picturesque Northern Michigan woodlands near Lake Huron and other natural waterways, the training center attracts a significant migratory bird population. This presents a challenge for Senior Master Sgt. Pat Czajka, who oversees airfield safety.

One of Czajka's greatest concerns is the risk birds and wildlife pose to aircraft on approach and takeoff.

"You can't even begin to quantify the worst-case scenario," Czajka said. "Imagine an A-10 (Thunderbolt II) hitting a goose and crashing, killing the pilot and causing millions of dollars in damage. That's the whole point of the program, to properly manage the risk of a bird hitting an aircraft."

Czajka is talking about the Defense Department's Bird/wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard Program (BASH), which aims to provide the safest possible flying conditions by discouraging wildlife from the vicinity of airfields. The Air Force reports about 4,000 bird strikes each year, causing tens of millions of dollars in damage. Czajka says understanding the behavior and movement of birds in the airfield environment is critical to reducing aircraft bird strikes.

"There's no one thing that manages the BASH program," Czajka said. "It's a multiple-pronged effort."

Since taking on the job of chief of safety for Alpena CRTC in 2011, Czajka says one question has loomed over the base's BASH program: how does one man do it all?

That's where Dane Williams, a wildlife specialist with the Gaylord office of the United States Department of Agriculture, comes in.

Since 2012, Alpena CRTC has received an annual grant from the National Guard Bureau, enabling the USDA to partner with the Michigan Air National Guard to manage wildlife at the airfield. The amount of the grant has steadily increased with the success of the program.

"If I were to die tomorrow, I'd die knowing that because of what we've been able to do with our USDA partners, a good BASH program has been implemented on this base," Czajka said.

Today, Williams is behind the wheel of a pickup, making the rounds to check on a series of live traps he monitors around the airfield. It's a trip he makes two to three times a week.

"I don't know anybody who's better to work with than Pat," Williams said with a grin. "We've gotten to be really tight, as often as I'm out here."

Williams climbs out of the truck and heads over to a grassy area not far from Alpena's runway. During Northern Strike, this part of the airfield is used as a drop zone for parachuting cargo.

"The airport is surrounded by water, so there are constantly going to be waterfowl coming in," he says, pointing toward the lily pads and cattails of Lake Winyah, a short distance from the end of the runway.

"The most I've been using out here is eight pole traps. We also have three Swedish goshawk traps out here right now."

Williams said the pole traps, designed to harness a bird safely when it perches on top, are ideal for the open spaces lining the airfield.

"That trap has been modified to be really gentle. It just catches the bird by the foot, and they fall to the ground."

He puts his hand between the pieces of metal and springs the trap, demonstrating its light tension.

"A small kid could put their hand in it," he said.

Using pole traps, Williams has captured about 25 kestrels this year. The Swedish goshawk traps have captured several snowy owls and other species, including red-tailed hawks. After Williams tags and bands the birds, they are relocated to wildlife areas near Gaylord.

"We're trying to do it the way that's safest, most humane for the bird or animal, and we're trying to do it effectively," he said.

So far, none of the birds he has tagged and released have returned to Alpena.

While the BASH program remains focused on reducing the risk of bird strikes, Williams' work also encompasses the management of conditions and factors that could lead to the arrival of new species.

"Lately, I've been watching what the beavers have been doing at this channel," he said, kneeling to check a trap set underwater. "The beavers aren't a risk for a strike, but if they build a dam here, it'll start backing up the water to create a habitat that will be more likely to attract ducks – which of course are a risk."

Williams also monitors other factors, like the length of the grass at the airfield, which could deter wildlife by eliminating food sources.

By all estimates, Williams' work at Alpena is making the airfield safer for humans and wildlife alike. According to Lisa Kruse, environmental program manager for Alpena CRTC, the airfield's BASH program is contributing to the implementation of an integrated Natural Resource Management Plan, which outlines the base's holistic approach to environmental stewardship.

"I think the fact that we can manage species and still complete the mission is really great," Kruse said. "I think most people have the impression it's either one or the other."

Kruse says DoD installations must comply with many environmental regulations, including the Sikes Act – which provides for cooperation by the Interior Department and DoD with state agencies in planning, development, and maintenance of fish and wildlife resources on U.S. military installations – and the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to evaluate the environmental impact of their actions.

"Most people would have no idea how much effort we put into appropriately managing our natural resources," she said. "It's a balance, and we work really hard at it."

According to Col. John Miner, Alpena CRTC commander, the base's partnership with USDA will continue for the foreseeable future, and will only grow as the USDA implements a similar BASH program at the nearby Grayling Aerial Gunnery Range.

"Given our location here in Alpena, this base is very interwoven with the local community and the natural habitat that surrounds us," Miner said. "Working with the USDA, they've been supportive when we don't have enough manpower to manage a program this large. They're helping us maintain our commitment to being the best stewards we can possibly be in terms of safety and respect to the environment – it's really become an enduring relationship here with the USDA."

For Czajka, the USDA partnership means peace of mind knowing the right team is in place to maximize the airfield's operational needs with safety.

"I don't care if it's a military aircraft or civilian," he said. "If we can save a life, it's totally symbiotic."


.@CMSAF_Official was recognized by Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann for her service as the command chief maste… https://t.co/QpuYvwjU7d
A KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing takes off from @RAFMildenhall. The 100th ARW is the… https://t.co/Fj3dlAjeob
.@LukeAFB is fulfilling @SecAFOfficial's priority of strengthening alliances and partnerships by training alongside… https://t.co/Ph4moiPsTq
RT @cmsaf_official: Life is about perspective. This self-portrait from SSgt Alexander Cook, from Luke AFB, honestly blew my mind... His…
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Winning won't happen alone. Powerful partnerships paired with advanced capability accelerates warfighting success. @AusAi
Helping hands. Members of the 110th Operations Group at Battle Creek Air National Guard Base volunteered to assist… https://t.co/VtX9OBI8wJ
F-15C/D Eagles assigned to the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron deployed to Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, in supp… https://t.co/kacgsocJAp
.@USAFRecruiting's Det. 1 celebrates 2 years of mentoring youth and addressing rated diversity. #AimHigh #ReadyAF https://t.co/jhKqJU829B
RT @DeptofDefense: Spotless ✈︎ An airman cleans the canopy of an A-10C Thunderbolt II at Osan Air Base, South Korea 🇰🇷. https://t.co/zybcv…
RT @GenCQBrownJr: This is #Airmen dedicated to solving challenging problems. #ThisisTest https://t.co/UlC6IBzmJ9
Airmen assigned to the 55th Rescue Squadron @Offutt_AFB train on combat maneuvers, scenarios and rescues over Arizo… https://t.co/LV3tVPpt30
RT @SecAFOfficial: Innovation is driving the future of the @USAirForce and @SpaceForceDoD, and the Rapid Sustainment Office is leading the…
RT @cmsaf_official: Wingmen - many of our teammates carry burdens we know nothing about. The load can be heavy - very heavy. Take time…
The U-2 Federal Laboratory successfully leveraged Kubernetes during a training sortie on a U-2 Dragon Lady at Beale… https://t.co/3YWoNAKoX4
RT @1stAF: DoD #MAFFS C-130s finished firefighting support Oct. 3. Since July 23, @USAFReserve/@AirNatlGuard units from Colo., Nev., Wyo.,…
The 389th Fighter Squadron “Thunderbolts” visited three Undergraduate Pilot Training bases with four F-15E Strike E… https://t.co/mxoDmIQB3X
“By combining our joint forces with resolute partners and pushing the limits of our training scenarios, we demonstr… https://t.co/H5Vj7oMiZn
.@usafe_afafrica Airmen operate across three continents, covering more than 19 million square miles and 104 indepen… https://t.co/RnSNwTCn5p
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Like Us
Follow Us