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."


Fueling the fight. #ReadyAF 😎 https://t.co/P21eDRLvXE
RT @cmsaf_official: Daniel Hulter & Austin Wiggins — appreciate the time and look forward to continuing the conversation...and of course,…
RT @thejointstaff: #GenMilley: Today we are in the middle of a fundamental change in the character of war. Partnerships w/ industry will pr…
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Airmen are our most valuable resource, and the #Airmen and their families at @HAFB are no exception. I’m grateful for the…
RT @AFGlobalStrike: “Modernization is a must to ensure that safety, security, and reliability don’t erode and put our strategic deterrence…
#AccelerateChange Action Order D - Design Implementation. "We must learn how to be agile and adapt to the future."… https://t.co/XNPdYx31QJ
.@TeamEglin successfully flew an F-15E Strike Eagle with six JDAMs on a single side of the aircraft, showcasing a c… https://t.co/Ppn4xl4eVm
RT @DeptofDefense: Twin Eagles ✈️✈️ @usairforce F-15E Strike Eagles fly over Southwest Asia. https://t.co/wF06SAu5jJ
RT @NellisAFB: Welcome to @NellisAFB @GenCQBrownJr. We look forward to introducing you and Mrs. Brown to our fine Airmen and families as yo…
#ICYMI The #AirForce Uniform Office has finalized the design of the new Physical Training Gear uniform, or PTG, and… https://t.co/PT9teXlWM3
Two #AirForce Installation and Mission Support Center units recently won Gears of Government awards for delivering… https://t.co/cZFtpnjjU0
The @AFThunderbirds and the @BlueAngels conducted the 2nd Annual Joint Training @NAFECPAO, to trade the best pract… https://t.co/6OvatQ4nQn
Airmen and Guardians in some career fields will now have more dress and appearance options with upcoming uniform ch… https://t.co/bbHs3w56G0
RT @GenCQBrownJr: #GBSD will provide the U.S. a resilient and flexible modern ICBM deterrent capability for decades to come, while assuring…
RT @cmsaf_official: Facts. Have a fantastic Wednesday! https://t.co/2rcUdurEaw
Registration is now open for the virtual 2021 Air Force Learning Professionals Consortium, happening from March 23-… https://t.co/mDjHSbb1wc
In line with @GenCQBrownJr's #AccelerateChange or Lose Action Order A: Airmen, the Department of the Air Force has… https://t.co/vePyf1NMaS
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Met with GBSD leaders @HAFB today. Our nuclear weapons are critical to a safe, secure, and reliable strategic deterrent. …
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