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USDA Biologists Take Flight at Travis

By CAPT SEAN HARTE, 60 AMW Safety Office

At Travis Air Force Base, California, wildlife biologists Matthew Thomas and Matthew Stevens from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are getting a bird’s-eye view of the airfield they protect.

The two were recently given authorization to fly with crews on any of the base’s aircraft in an effort to improve the wildlife mitigation program, a benchmark practice for Air Mobility Command. The flights are part of a proactive safety initiative embraced by the base’s flight safety office, but it’s merely a small piece of a complex wildlife management effort at one of AMC’s largest bases.

Wildlife strikes cost the Air Force more than $30 million in fiscal year 2017, so to say the biologists’ job is important is an understatement.

“Our USDA biologists play a vital role in safe flight operations, so including them on local flights only enhances the wildlife mitigation program by affording them a more comprehensive view of local area threats,” said Maj Kimberly Bracken, the 60th Air Mobility Wing Deputy Chief of Safety.

“As an added benefit, the flights help our USDA members observe flight operations outside of Travis AFB,” she said. “Observing low levels and other local airfields used by our crews allows our biologists insight into the bird strike risks our aircraft face off station.”

Every day before sunrise and every night after sunset, the airfield is patrolled by “the Matts” as they’re affectionately called. In general, their job includes airfield management from a wildlife perspective. This involves trapping and relocating wildlife, bird dispersal, and depredation.

Stevens recently flew with a C-17 Globemaster III crew and commented on the experience.

“It was eye-opening to see how busy crews are when they’re flying,” said Stevens. “Birds are just one of many concerns for pilots. When flying with crews in the local pattern, I have the opportunity to observe hazards around the airfield that I can’t always see from the ground. Flying helps me spot trouble areas that I can address later.”

The result is a wildlife mitigation program that has seen a 46 percent decrease in bird strikes. The Travis Flight Safety Office hopes their program can open the door for wildlife management personnel at other bases across the Air Force to begin flying with the aircrew members they support. In the meantime, the airfield and the skies above Travis are safer thanks to the enduring efforts of its USDA professionals.