JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON — Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s Bird Air Strike Hazard program is reducing the flight safety risk to aircraft, aircrew and passengers with a project to remove wildlife-attracting trees in the BASH and wildlife exclusion zones.
Having fruit trees near runways negatively impacts mission readiness because the trees attract birds, which increases the risk of bird strikes to aircraft.
“We discovered there were fruit-producing trees attracting wildlife near the runway in 2012 when we had a biologist track bird patterns on the airfield,” said Cassandra Schoofs, 673d Civil Engineer Squadron Environmental Compliance/Conservation avian program manager. “The biologist noticed there are large flocks of small birds flying back and forth across the runway to get to food on the south side of the runway, especially in the winter time.”
These fruiting trees in the BASH and WEZ are being removed by application of systemic herbicide.
“Herbicide was applied rather than cutting down the trees because these types of trees have a tendency to grow back more aggressively if they are directly cut down,” said Charlene Johnson, 673d CES/CEIEC vegetation ecologist. “The herbicide was applied so when the trees are removed they are not going to grow back.”
Systemic herbicide works by injecting herbicide directly into the tree trunk, usually at several locations around the trunk. The tree’s own vascular system spreads the herbicide through the entire tree. This minimizes the potential impact on the surrounding, non-target environment.
“The herbicide is not on the grass and it is not in the air,” Johnson said.
There were no aerial applications of herbicide on JBER and no fruit trees outside the BASH and WEZ were treated with an herbicide.
“We are not treating anything within the Aurora Housing boundaries or on school grounds, even if they are part of the BASH areas,” Johnson said.
Since the herbicide application spreads through the entire tree, the fruit from treated trees is no longer safe for human consumption.
The project started in 2018, when approximately 160 trees were treated, and has continued in 2019 with the further treatment of about 650 trees.
Johnson said as the installation is able the trees will be replaced with non-fruiting species of trees.
“The loss of these trees is not insignificant,” Johnson said. “We are planning on planting trees that are not as attractive to the wildlife that cause the hazards to planes while still being beautiful to the public.”
The project enables the base to be mission ready and safer by reducing the bird aircraft strike risk.
“To put it simply, birds and aircraft don’t mix,” Schoofs said. “Bird aircraft strikes cause costly damage to planes every year and have the potential to be deadly. We are modifying the surrounding habitat to discourage birds from using this area because fruit trees are just not worth the risk they pose. With this project, we are working on making the area safer for Airmen and wildlife.”