Bird feeding prohibited at base lakes

  • Published
  • By Amanda Creel
  • 78th ABW/PA
For many, the beginning of spring signals the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. And members of the Robins community have always enjoyed the season with a trip to Scout Lake with a loaf of bread in hand to feed the birds.

However, this year those who headed to the lake were met by a new sign prohibiting the practice.

The new base-wide policy prohibiting the feeding of birds or animals has been under consideration for some time, because of the potential for birds, especially Canadian Geese, to cause an aircraft accident.

"We know it is not going to be a popular measure, but it is necessary," said Lt. Col. Dana Nelson, chief of flight safety. "If the pond (Scout Lake) wasn't located along the flight path, we probably wouldn't need to stop it, but because of the location of that popular spot we have to take action."

The decision was not one base officials weighed lightly. Bob Sargent, natural resources manager in the 78th Civil Engineer Group's Environmental Management Division, said the base knew people were going to be upset they couldn't feed the ducks and geese, because it can be such an enjoyable pastime.

"We didn't want to prevent people from enjoying feeding our birds," Mr. Sargent said.

However, when the officials weighed the pros and cons of allowing members of the Robins community to continue feeding the birds at the base lakes, the risk to the flight mission outweighed other factors involved.

One of the things that weighed heavy on their minds was the crash of an E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System Sept. 22, 1995, during takeoff from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. The crash was caused when the aircraft collided with Canadian Geese resulting in the deaths of all 24 passengers. After the Alaska crash, the Air Force adopted a no-tolerance policy requiring bases to take action to keep the geese from viewing bases as an attractive habitat, Mr. Sargent said.

"For the last two years, we have had to remove geese from the airfield, more than 20 last year alone," Mr. Sargent said.

The change is a part of many efforts the base uses to discourage birds as part of the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard or BASH program. Other actions the base has taken to help eliminate the threat include the trapping and relocation of between 350 and 400 geese during the past seven years and the use of exploding devices such as shell crackers to encourage the birds to flee the area by creating loud noises.

Mr. Sargent said by eliminating the feeding of the birds it makes the base a less attractive destination. "We want them to view other areas or ponds in the community as a good habitat," he said.

He added the birds do not need to be fed by the community because they have plenty of other resources available to them.

Mr. Sargent said because the base lakes are just one part of the Canadian Geese's territory the problem occurs when they travel between attractive destinations because the birds can interfere with the flight paths of Robins' aircraft.

The size of the foul and the tendency for the birds to travel in flocks raised concern because Scout Lake, the most popular bird feeding spot, allows the birds easy access to the approach path for the flightline, Colonel Nelson said.

The geese, which typically weigh between 10 and 12 pounds, can cause significant damage to aircraft if they impact the aircraft when it is traveling at a reasonable speed, Mr. Sargent said. Many of the Canadian Geese in the Middle Georgia area are not migratory geese, but instead they are residents.

These geese pass down learned behaviors to their future off-spring such as returning to the same location to molt their flight feathers. By discouraging the geese from calling Robins' lakes home through the feeding ban, it will not only eliminate problems now but with future generations of the geese.