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NEWS | July 6, 2012

Visitors on flightline create buzz for JBSA-Randolph pest control

By Robert Goetz Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

When 902nd Civil Engineer Squadron pest control technicians were dispatched for an unusual mission on Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph's west flightline the afternoon of June 13, they weren't surprised.

A swarm of honeybees buzzing around on the flap of a T-6A Texan II trainer is an odd - and perhaps scary - sight to most people, but not so to the 902nd CES' Steve Kelly and Mike Lloyd. For them, removing the hard-working insects was just another day at the office and a task for which they are ably prepared.

"We've done a handful of those," Kelly said. "It was a swarm looking for a place to make their hive. They're always looking for a suitable place."

The way Kelly and Lloyd handled their assignment reflected the Air Force's kinder, gentler approach to pest control, especially when dealing with a beneficial creature like the bee.

"Most of the time we don't do anything," Kelly said. "They realize the top of an airplane wing is not a good place to make a home, so they move on."

But in this case, the pest control experts were directed to remove the bees, so they donned their beekeeping suits and went to work - not destroying the bees with chemicals, but simply using a piece of cardboard and a broom to gently brush them off the wing and scoop them into a specially designed box that served as a temporary home until they were given to local beekeepers.

"We don't want to kill them if we don't have to," Kelly said. "They're the most beneficial insect known to man because of their role in pollination."

Kelly said staying calm is important when handling bees.

"When they're in a swarm, they're not very aggressive because they don't have a home to defend yet," he said. "When we removed them, they got agitated, but they settled down fairly quickly."

Kelly said bee removal is not an everyday duty of pest control technicians.

"We get several swarms a year," he said. "Most of them are relocations."

Bees can be found on tree limbs, in the hollows of trees, inside walls and in attics, Kelly said.

"They want something with a small entry point and a large void beyond that, such as gaps in wood that lead to attics," he said.

Some hives can go undetected for long periods of time because they're up high, away from people, in attics or spaces above ceilings, Kelly said. In one case, he recalled, a hive went undiscovered until honey started dripping from the ceiling.

Kelly said Air Force pest control specialists' humane approach toward bees - letting them move on their own or removing them and finding them a new home with beekeepers - mirrors how they handle other creatures.

"It's more about biology," he said. "We try to change the environmental conditions that cause problems to exist. We use habitat modification."

Rodents and insects like ants, crickets and cockroaches are attracted to food and water, so removing those sources can prevent infestations. Mosquito control relies on getting rid of the insects' breeding grounds - anywhere there is standing water.

Kelly said the Department of Defense's emphasis is limited use of chemicals in pest control.
"We use a lot of baits, so it's more target-specific," he said. "We don't want to release toxins into the air."

Kelly said wild animals that are found on base - including raccoons, possums, skunks and even red foxes and deer - are not destroyed.

"We catch them and take them to nearby Air Force property that is remote to our structures, then we release them," he said.

Kelly said pest control varies by season and weather conditions.

During times of drought, he said, insects often move closer to buildings or indoors in search of food and water. Rainy weather poses problems as well - a spike in insect populations, especially mosquitoes.

"The main thing we want to do is control insects in our environment and minimize their impact to health," Kelly said.