The 75th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources department is teaming up with the Ogden Air Logistics Center and 75th Air Base Wing Bird/Wildlife Avoidance Strike Hazard working group to provide a natural and low-cost method of removing birds from the airspace around Hill Air Force Base and the Utah Test and Training Range. The groups have been extinguishing weeds from land surrounding both air fields, as the weeds produce seeds and attract insects that ultimately provide an attractive feast for birds, and planting rhizomatous grasses in its place. This is part of an ongoing vegetation control program that will naturally deter birds from Hill's air fields.
"I've been working with habitat for my entire career and so I started thinking about why we would have birds in the first place," said Russell Lawrence, 75th CES wildlife habitat biologist. "Birds are common on air fields, but what is attracting them to that site? I made the correlation that the birds are honing in on the insects, so that led me to ask, 'Why are the insects there?'Ã¢Ã¢Ã¢Ã¢"
Lawrence and his team concluded that the insects are attracted to the weeds growing around the air fields here and at the UTTR, and the birds are attracted to both the insects and the seeds produced from the weeds. The natural solution was to plant a rhizomatous grass that does not produce seeds to propagate and does not attract insects.
"(These grasses) will not create a perfect mat of grass like a lawn but it will fill a lot of those open spaces that weed seed can get into and start shading the existing weed seed, making the area less desirable (for insects and birds)," Lawrence said.
He also points out that although the rhizomatous grasses do not produce seed, they are still able to thrive. "According to air field regulations, the grasses must be mowed between seven and 14 inches in height and these particular grasses that are being planted won't seed within that growth level. However, being rhizomatous, they will still propagate and do not need to seed in order to survive."
These grasses are also native to the area and require only natural water sources. No additional sprinkling system is required.
The idea of vegetation control on air fields has been implemented elsewhere "but each one is unique," Lawrence said. "This one is just unique to the needs of our air fields here."
Vegetation control is the cheapest form of bird strike control, Lawrence said. "The ultimate cost savings in this program will be the reduction of air strikes."
Realizing that ultimate cost savings will involve other cost-saving benefits as well. "Once the grasses take over it will reduce weed control costs and it will naturally deter insects, so we will not have to spray insecticide either. Overall, it will reduce manhours and cost of chemicals along with the cost savings of reduced bird strikes."
Lawrence says this vegetation control program is a partnership among the Natural Resources department, which presented the idea in the last quarterly BASH meeting, and the BASH working group, which consists of the 75th Civil Engineering Group, 75th CES Entomology shop, which is spraying the air fields with herbicide to reduce the weeds, and the OO-ALC and 75th ABW Aviation Safety and Air Field Operations groups.
"The BASH working group is trying to provide long-term maintenance rather than be reactive to hazards," Lawrence said. "We try to find solutions to solve issues as a whole and have lasting results. They will still need to scare a few birds but we hope that the number of birds in the area will decrease since there will no longer be any reason for them to come."
Lawrence speculates that it will take approximately three years before the end results of the project can be evaluated. In the meantime, his department will continue to monitor the program and document its effects.