BASH program keeps birds at bay

  • Published
  • By Airman First Class Brittany Barker
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
At first glance, Odin Stephens looks out of character in his snake skin boots and deep country accent surrounded by a sea of uniformed Airmen here.

However, Mr. Stephens fits into the Air Force mission just fine. He is a U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife biologist in charge of the 23rd Wing Safety Office's Bird Avoidance Strike Hazard program, also know as BASH.

Protecting the health and safety of human beings is one of many mission statements for the USDA, and Mr. Stephens exercises this everyday by protecting the Airmen and aircraft on Moody's flightline.

"At first I was a little intimidated working around the military," said Mr. Stephens. "But I soon learned how friendly and helpful everyone was."

A career as a wildlife biologist was a perfect match for Mr. Stephens, who has a lifelong love for the outdoors. He obtained a master's degree in wildlife biology, with a focus on deer, while attending the University of Georgia.

This expertise helps Mr. Stephens manage the threat created by the various wildlife near the base's flightline or in an aircraft's flying path. The winter months are also the busiest season for BASH operations due to the migration patterns of birds flying south to find warmer weather.

According to the U.S. Air Force and Navy Safety Centers, damages resulting from 90,000 wildlife and bird strikes have caused more than $1 billion in repairs since 1980. In addition to the monetary damages, more than 195 people have lost their lives due to these strikes to military and civilian aircraft from 1988-2006.

Capt. Steve Bailey, 75th Fighter Squadron A-10C Thunderbolt II pilot, knows first hand the serious nature of these threats.

"A bird strike can cause significant damage to any aircraft," said Captain Bailey. "We receive briefings frequently about the importance of the BASH program."

Realizing the danger of these hazards, the Air Force has mandated every base have a BASH program. The program uses four methods of operation: habitat manipulation, exclusion, repellent and lethal control.

Mr. Stephens said he uses the repellent method for 95 percent of his work here through the use of pyrotechnics.

The biologist sweeps the flightline and runway, again looking out of place in his white USDA pickup truck, multiple times a day to diagnose potential bird and wildlife threats near the area. The base's main threats come from vultures, sand hill cranes, white ibis, blackbirds, raptors and robins, each of which he can identify on sight.

If he spots a flock of birds, he calls the Air Traffic Control Tower for permission to use pyrotechnics.

If approved, Mr. Stephens loads his shotgun with pyrotechnic devices called a screamer, a banger or a shell cracker to create noise or flares to frighten away the birds.

Not all of his job centers around his field work, however. He also creates maps, surveys, constructs traps and studies statistics regarding bird and wildlife habits surrounding the base in his office, which is covered in BASH safety posters and mounted animals.

"This program is like eating at an elephant, you can only take one bite at a time," said Mr. Stephens, "You have to track wildlife habits, and use a mixture of all four BASH methods to be successful."