MARTINSBURG, W.Va. --
Approximately three acres of trees were removed from the northwest side of taxiway alpha at the 167th Airlift Wing side of Shepherd Field in Martinsburg, W.Va., Oct. 10-20th, to ensure the airfield was in compliance with the Department of Defense Unified Facility Criteria program.
The U.S. Department of Defense introduced the Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC) program to unify all technical criteria and standards relating to planning, design, construction, and operation and maintenance of real property facilities.
Master Sgt. Alan Romero, an airfield manager at the 167th, said the tree removal was done due to the need for a 1,000 foot clearance from the center line of the runway.
According to guidance from UFC: Airfield and Heliport Planning and Design the runway lateral clearance zone of the runway is 1,000 feet. This means the ground surface within this area must be clear of fixed or mobile objects to include natural features such as trees.
Civil Engineering at the 167th worked with airfield management to help find the funds for the project. The contractors for the removal, SALON LLC and S&K Enterprises, used equipment to clear the approximate three acre area of trees and brush.
The removal of the trees also benefited the 167th Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) program aims to reduce wildlife hazards to aircraft operations.
Senior Master Sgt. Lee Deyerle, the 167th flight safety NCO and BASH team member, said, “Wooded areas provide cover for large animals and roosting areas for birds, which is problematic for an airfield, removing the trees helps reduce the hazards.”
The BASH team was established after an airfield assessment last October determined there was significant wildlife on the airfield. They have been conducting routine surveys since then.
According to Deyerle, the tree removal has substantially reduced the number of birds surveyed on the airfield.
During fiscal year 2017 there were 19 total bird strikes recorded at the wing. One strike caused $38,000 worth of damage to the fan blades of a C-17 engine, said Deyerle.
U.S. Department of Agriculture biological science technician, Chad Neil, said any area near the airfield where trees provide cover to deer and perch nest for birds can be a problem to the airfield.
Neil conducts direct control activities to discourage wildlife from the airfield. He lends technical assistance to the BASH team at the 167th and offers ideas on how to reduce wildlife threats to the airfield.
One large bird species that has been sighted on the airfield during surveys are hawks.
Neil is certified to capture, band and release hawks captured on the airfield. He often takes the hawks as far away as Mt. Storm, W.Va., to release them. The idea is to determine if a specific hawk is a repeat visitor to the airfield after it has been released.
During fiscal year 2017, deer, turkey vultures, coyotes, fox, ground hogs, and several other birds and animals have been observed on the airfield, all of which pose threats.
However, the number one issue is deer, said Neil.
Deyerle said, during night surveys they have gone from seeing 20 deer, to seeing 3 deer a night since the trees have been removed.
Romero said the tower on the airfield uses night vision goggles to spot deer on the runway to help prevent a deer strike from happening when aircraft are landing at night.
Deyerle said the BASH program is always pursuing options to help reduce the amount of wildlife that enters the airfield.
Neil said the animals tend to go under and over the current fence around the airfield.
According to Deyerle, there is a proposal in the works to get a new fence around the airfield. A grid wire project for the front drainage pond and placement of under netting under structures to reduce the nesting areas are options being considered to help make the airfield unattractive to birds and other animals.
Every group on base has provided something to the BASH program to help improve safety on the airfield, said Deyerle.