For APHIS Wildlife Services employees Marie Griffin and Steve Baumann, being recognized as “Outstanding Performers” by the U.S. Air Force’s 55th Wing is an honor. But the most rewarding feeling comes at the end of each work day, after none of the aircraft at Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base incurs a damaging wildlife strike.
Just south of Omaha, Offutt is home to 32 squadrons that specialize in worldwide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. With its runway near rich farmland and adjacent ponds, the base is a migratory magnet for waterfowl, geese and other species. Most bird strikes occur at 3,000 feet and below, a fact of life that military officials take seriously. Offutt crews practicing “touch-and-go” takeoffs and landings fly in the bird strike danger zone.
And while waterfowl, hawks, gulls, and blackbirds are the most common animals to collide with Offutt aircraft, deer, foxes, and coyotes pose threats on the runway.
Enter Griffin, a wildlife biologist, and Baumann, a wildlife specialist. Both work full-time at the base to keep animals from harming approaching and departing military aircraft using many techniques, including trapping, banding and relocating raptors. In doing so, they not only remove the birds from the airfield but also help in studying their travel patterns.
The pair also emphasizes reducing bird-attracting habitats and food sources – both long-term approaches to addressing potential strike hazards. Their expertise is used to brief base personnel on the types of wildlife that pose a danger.
“We make sure the aircraft don’t collide with the birds so the pilots don’t suffer any harm. The command staff, in turn, does all it can to ensure our success by acting upon the information we share,” Griffin said.
By always looking for new ways to reduce wildlife presence and interference with military operations, the pair has earned the respect of those they support.
“The work … that Marie and Steve do here at Offutt Air Force Base is second to none,” said Lt. Col. Kurt Koenigsfeld, the Wing’s safety chief. “In my opinion, our Air Force/USDA relationship couldn’t work any better here and ensures our mission success.”
For Baumann, a six-year Offutt veteran, his work is personal.
“I’m retired military, so to keep these aircraft safe is very rewarding for me.”
“You feel good at the end of the day,” Baumann said, “when all the airmen go home safely and they can meet the challenge of the next day.”
For another APHIS wildlife biologist’s view of work at another airbase, visit: http://www.youtube.com/usdaaphis#p/f/26/5AQ6Np1S_zQ