Keeping Moody safe one critter at a time

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Briana Beavers
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs

To prevent mishaps on the airfield and possible damage to aircraft caused by birds and other animals, Lauren Smith and her dog, Teal, monitor and control the wildlife and habitats in and around Moody Air Force Base’s airfield.

As a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) program, her goal is to keep Airmen and other assets safe by identifying and reducing wildlife threats to aviation safety.

Smith employs a wide variety of non-lethal, and if absolutely necessary, lethal methods to mitigate the damage caused by wildlife.

“Overall, we try to minimize human and wildlife conflict,” said Smith, 23rd Wing airfield wildlife biologist. “My primary focus, with respect to health, human safety and military equipment is to reduce wildlife in the airfield environment.”

Surprisingly, the most abundant threat to aircraft safety is birds. Between 2009 and 2017, Moody had nearly 500 bird strikes which resulted in about $2 million worth of damage.

“We have swamps surrounding our airfield that attract a lot of migratory birds,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Tafoya, 23rd Wing Safety non-commissioned officer in charge of flight safety. “That’s a big (danger) to our aircraft that we are having to deter all the time.”

The Wing Safety office remains proactive in keeping these animals away from the airfield and surrounding habitats using methods such as habitat modification and exclusion.

“Every bird can be a threat, so we try to change the environment to make it less appealing to them,” Smith said. “For instance, some places on other airfields have ponds that we cover with grid-wires so birds won’t land.”

Although the majority of wildlife incidents pertaining to the airfield are bird related, Moody Air Force Base is home to a wide range of other creatures that can pose a threat to the safety of Airmen and equipment.

“There are multiple alligators in Mission Lake on,” Smith said. “Personnel should not play near the water and should remain vigilant to the inherent dangers of being that close to wildlife.”

Smith and her team use a variety of techniques to protect both the aircraft and the wildlife population.

“We use tools like general exclusion, pyrotechnics, BASH cannons, and (my dog) Teal who helps disperse birds,” Smith said. “We also do some trapping and relocating … and as an absolute last resort, we use lethal removal.”

The goal is to create an unappealing environment to animals before having to forcefully remove them. 

Thanks to the BASH program and Smith’s involvement, the flightline, aircrews and all other airfield operations are able to perform their duties with a reduced risk of wildlife hazards.

“I feel like my experience helps me make the best decisions on mitigating human, wildlife conflict,” Smith said. “If anybody on the base has any wildlife concerns, I’m always available to call 24/7.”

For questions or concerns regarding wildlife conflict, contact Occupational Safety by phone at 229-257-SAFE.