9/23/2014-Joint Base San Antonio, Texas –
A burgeoning white-winged dove population in Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph's central housing area poses daily dangers for aircrews on the east flightline, but a program that began this week seeks to thin the birds' summertime habitat and make the skies safer for aircraft.
Crews from a San Antonio-based contractor have begun the process of pruning some 700 trees inside Main Circle, a project expected to take six months to complete.
"The trees will be trimmed and pruned in a specific way," Mike Pacheco, a U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife biologist assigned to the 12th Flying Training Wing Safety Office, said. "The purpose is to open up the trees' canopies so they're not so thick. The trees in the housing area have become a perfect nesting ground for white-winged doves."
John Howry, JBSA landscape architect, will oversee the tree-trimming crews as well as an arborist assigned to the project.
"The crews will thin the trees so they don't overlap and birds don't have a place to hide," he said. "There's also the potential of taking some trees out."
Crews will also have to work in some residents' backyards, Howry said, but debris will not be left overnight.
"We also want to make people aware that there may be temporary street detours, but there will be signage and cones," Virgil McGee, 502nd Civil Engineer Squadron lead contract officer representative, said. "We ask that people not park under the trees where trimming is being done."
Residents will be apprised of the tree-trimming program and any temporary street closures by email from Hunt Military Communities, Diane Butler, JBSA-Randolph Housing Element chief, said.
The white-winged dove, with summertime breeding grounds expanding north and ranging from Texas to California, has become increasingly responsible for damaging strikes to 12th FTW aircraft, Pacheco said.
"Every year, the white-winged dove is the number one species that causes damage to aircraft," he said.
In fiscal 2012, white-winged dove strikes were responsible for $133,233 in repairs to the 12th FTW's aircraft, or 17.4 percent of all repair costs, while other species accounted for $765,116 in damages, according to 12th FTW Safety Office statistics.
The percentage of repair costs caused by white-winged dove strikes increased to 36.1 in fiscal 2013 and 45.8 in the current fiscal year; repair costs attributed to white-winged dove strikes topped $350,000 each year. This year, one single incident involving white-winged doves caused more than $244,000 in damages to a T-38 Talon jet aircraft.
Pacheco said the white-winged doves leave their roosts each morning - about the time 12th FTW aircraft are departing for their sorties - to forage for food in the fields south and southeast of JBSA-Randolph, often crossing the east flightline.
As part of their daily duties that revolve around the JBSA-Randolph Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard program, Pacheco and other BASH program representatives use a variety of mitigation techniques to keep birds away from the flightlines as they head for their feeding grounds.
Pacheco attributes the increasing danger of white-winged dove strikes to a population explosion caused, in part, by regional conservation efforts and a welcoming habitat in the central housing area.
"Every summer we observe an exponential growth in population from when the breeding starts in May and June until the fledglings join the adults in leaving the roost to forage in July and August," he said. "The trees have grown in such a way that they overlap and form a condensed canopy attractive to the doves. The dense canopy serves as shelter from predators and gives the doves a place for perching, nesting and overnight roosting."
In addition to contributing to flight safety, the tree-trimming program should improve the environment in the central housing area, Pacheco said.
"The birds defecate all over patio furniture, playgrounds, cars, sidewalks, buildings and other structures, creating a negative quality-of-life issue for those living in base housing," he said. "There will be many benefits to effective tree management in the housing area."