Wildlife biologists keep gators in check

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jarrod Grammel
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
On a warm, sunny day in April, one man walks down a long, metal dock, which stretches out onto the dark waters of Mission Lake. Once he reaches the end, he leans against the railing and looks out onto the lake, in search of only one thing.

Only about a minute went by when suddenly he brings a standard set of hunting binoculars to his face. He found what he is looking for - an alligator.

This is a daily task for Gregory Lee, 23d Civil Engineer Squadron environmental management chief. Every day he goes out to the lake to count and monitor the alligators, and ensure there are no potentially dangerous ones.

"We keep an eye on things to make sure people aren't feeding the alligators or doing things they're not supposed to," he said. "Alligators become dangerous when they lose their fear of people. If we have to, we remove potentially dangerous alligators from the area, but we hate to remove one because someone broke the law."

Last year, Moody wildlife biologists and their teams removed three alligators from Mission Lake. However the numbers vary every year, ranging from zero to six on average.
Lee said they usually trap the alligators themselves, and then hand them off to the state alligator trapper.

J.C. Griffin, a U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife biologist at Moody, gained a lot of experience working with alligators while working as a nuisance alligator trapper for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"During the spring and summer months, alligators are more active," said Griffin. "Occasionally they will wander out of water and onto land in search of food, mates or because they were pushed out by more territorial alligators.

"Every year we get multiple cases of alligators on active runways," he added. "When this happens they need to be removed immediately. That's where I come in. I have the experience and tools necessary to handle dangerous species like alligators. I take them alive and relocate them to a safer location."

However, for Griffin, who has a bachelor's and master's degree in wildlife biology from the University of Georgia, dealing with alligators is only one aspect of his job.

"I run the bird aircraft strike hazards program, which manages hazardous wildlife to reduce strikes on aircraft," he said. "I specialize in damage control and resolving conflicts between wildlife and people. We also try to educate the pilots and create awareness."

Lee also has a master's degree in wildlife biology from the University of Georgia. He grew up around Moody, hunting and fishing. He said he always enjoyed the outdoors and when he got older, his interest turned into a career.

"I like the challenge of working for the Department of Defense," said Lee. "When you work for the DOD, you have to manage the environmental aspect while supporting the mission. You never know what is going to happen."

Part of managing the environment on base is maintaining a healthy alligator population. Alligators live in the wetlands of the southeastern U.S. Lee says they live to be 50 to 60 years old and are vital to these wetlands.

"The Air Force doesn't own any of this property," said Lee. "It belongs to the people of the United States, and we have to be good stewards. Moody and Grand Bay have done a good job of maintaining the ecosystem. It's important to make sure the military can train and complete the mission, but we also have to leave the environment the way it is and preserve our resources."

By performing his daily duties, Lee ensures Airmen, retirees and families can spend a day of fishing or a relaxing lunch break, enjoying the natural environment at Mission Lake.