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Sandusky, Ohio Field Station History

Overview: Location and Facilities

The NWRC Ohio Field Station, located four miles south of Sandusky at Plum Brook Station, is a 6,000-acre fenced parcel operated by Glenn Research Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Facility grounds contain varied habitats that support plentiful wildlife populations. When these populations are combined with the large gull colonies on nearby Lake Erie, as well as the station's central location to major agricultural areas, unparalleled opportunities arise for research on birds and mammals that conflict with humans.
Facilities include indoor and outdoor aviaries, several large bird-traps, drying and processing rooms for field samples, shop space, a video laboratory for behavioral experiments, a 5-acre fenced pond for waterfowl research, conference rooms, and a 40-acre farm.

What Does the Sandusky Field Station Do?

The focus of the NWRC Ohio Field Station is conducting research and developing methods to reduce wildlife strikes with vehicles, particularly civil and military aircraft. Current research emphases include (1) movement patterns, habitat use, and food habits of wildlife hazardous to aviation; (2) the potential suitability of alternative land uses, including renewable energy production and agriculture, at airports from a wildlife-strike perspective; and (3) the integration of sensory ecology, physiology, and antipredator behavior to understand animal reactions to vehicles, with the goal of developing onboard systems (e.g., lights, paint schemes, sounds) that elicit earlier alert and escape behaviors in response to high-speed aircraft and automobiles.

Field Station Leadership

Dr. Richard A. Dolbeer served as project leader of the Sandusky, OH, field station from 1971-2002. Dr. Dolbeer led several research programs focused on resolving wildlife-human conflicts, from blackbird depredations in grain crops to aircraft engines ingesting birds. In 2008, Dr. Dolbeer retired as the National Airports Coordinator for Wildlife Services, Airport Wildlife Hazards Program.

Dr. Robert C. Beason served as project leader from 2002-2007, continuing research efforts aimed at mitigating wildlife and human interactions, specifically related to aviation.

In 2008, Dr. Travis L. DeVault assumed leadership of the project. In addition to directing continued research efforts to reduce wildlife hazards to aviation, he broadened the mission of the project to include research on animal collisions with automobiles and structures.

Notable Events in the Field Station's History

1960s: Ohio farmers organize the Bye-Bye Blackbird Committee to lobby for government action in reducing crop losses from blackbirds. Two years later, this group becomes the Ohio Coordinating Committee for the Control of Depredating Birds and builds a statewide organization, soon attracting congressional attention. Congress supports the location of a research station in Ohio. Melvin T. Dyer is hired as the first Project Leader for the new research center that would be administered from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center within the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. In 1968, a location is selected at the Plum Brook Station on NASA property.

1970s: The Sandusky, OH, field station is primarily concerned with research on agricultural conflicts involving birds. Scientists study population trends of offending birds, and test the effectiveness of chemical repellents to keep birds from eating crops. In 1976, all federal animal damage control (ADC) research is consolidated under the Denver Wildlife Research Center.

1980s: Research continues in the area of testing different repellent methods, including investigating various crop hybrids that repel birds without decreasing crop yields. Field work, as in previous decades, is imperative for developing control methods. The ADC program is moved from the Department of Interior to the Department of Agriculture.

1990s: Research continues to analyze bird depredation problems in agriculture, but shifts to a new focus on wildlife hazards to aviation--mainly bird strikes--due to quieter, faster airplanes, an increase in air traffic, and larger populations of birds. As part of this new focus, the field station takes over the maintenance of the Federal Aviation Administration’s National Wildlife Strike Database, a record of reported wildlife-aircraft collisions. Managed by NWRC staff until February 2004 when its administration transferred to Wildlife Services Operations, the database is critical to understanding wildlife strikes and aviation.

2000s: The field station becomes the leading research facility on wildlife hazards to aviation. Research by NWRC biologists leads to the publishing of a 248-page manual, "Wildlife Hazard Management at Airports," co-authored by Richard Dolbeer and Edward Cleary. The manual provides a detailed course of action for understanding and managing wildlife hazards at airports. Prior to this publication, airports had no guide to provide direction on how to develop, implement, and evaluate wildlife hazard management programs.

2010s: The field station begins the decade with a new Interagency Agreement (signed in FY 2009) with the Federal Aviation Administration. The new agreement reflects an increased research capacity and larger scientific staff at the field station. Research priorities under the new agreement include investigations of bird movement patterns; wildlife hazards associated with various land uses at airports (turf grasses, prairies, food crops, and renewable energy production); behavioral responses of birds and mammals to vehicle approach; efficacy of aircraft lighting for increasing alert response of birds; and the use of ground-based, bird-detecting radars for reducing bird-strike risk at airports.

Sandusky, OH, Field Station



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