Demonstration and Implementation of Autonomous Aerial Acoustic Recording Systems to Inventory DoD Installation Impact Areas for Threatened, Endangered, and Species at Risk Bird Populations

Dr. Richard Fischer | U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center



The objectives of this project are to (1) demonstrate the ability of the autonomous aerial acoustic recording system (AAARS) to collect data on avian vocalizations for threatened, endangered, and at-risk species (TER-S) of birds over inaccessible areas at military installations; (2) demonstrate the value of the data collected for supplementing and enhancing avian monitoring data already collected on military installations that supports regulatory and legislative compliance (e.g., the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA], Executive Order 13186, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act [MBTA]) and the conservation and stewardship of TER-S birds; (3) train Department of Defense (DoD) natural resources staff on select military installations on use of this technology; (4) evaluate the ability of trained DoD staff to deploy the technology and analyze and use the data collected; and (5) document the cost of implementing such systems across a range of DoD installations. Technology demonstrations will take place at three installations--Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; and Fort Riley, Kansas.

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Technology Description

The AAARS is composed of a weather balloon used to transport an electronic payload over otherwise inaccessible areas. The primary functions of the payload are to record the vocalizations of the target avian species, provide tracking telemetry to spatially correlate the audio data and track the flight path of the system, control the flight of the system, and reliably and safely recover the system. The avian vocalizations are recorded using a commercially available digital recorder and an active directional microphone. A GPS module generates position and altitude data used to provide spatial correlation of the audio data. This data is relayed to PC-based ground stations via RF modems. The ground stations log flight telemetry and send flight control commands to the payload via the RF modems. A servo controlled valve is used to slowly vent helium to control the altitude of the system during flight. The servo controlled valve is also used to terminate the flight by rapidly deflating the balloon. GPS telemetry data are then used to locate and recover the system once it is on the ground. When the system is recovered, audio data recorded during the flight are transferred from the digital recorder to a PC for later analysis, along with the recorded spatial data.

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DoD has an excellent track record of integrating natural resources management with the military mission. Up to this point, however, DoD natural resources staff have been unable to fully assess the significance of inaccessible areas to TER-S bird populations. This project will provide information that will significantly improve DoD's ability to comply with the MBTA, NEPA, Executive Order 13186, the Endangered Species Act, and where applicable, the Migratory Bird Rule. Furthermore, monitoring TER-S in formerly inaccessible areas will directly support the objectives of the new DoD Coordinated Bird Monitoring Plan that recommends focused monitoring on species that have the potential for future impacts to the military mission. Implementation of the AAARS will enable natural resources staff for the first time to inventory which species are present in inaccessible areas, estimate relative abundance and density of these species, and track status of the populations over time. Documentation of TER-S bird distribution, relative abundance, and density in inaccessible areas, in conjunction with existing data from outside these areas, will improve understanding of the role DoD lands play in providing important habitat for a variety of at-risk species. (Anticipated Project Completion - 2015)

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Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Dr. Richard Fischer

U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center

Phone: 502-315-6707

Fax: 601-634-2835

Program Manager

Resource Conservation and Resiliency