Pete Swiderek displays a red-cockaded woodpecker specimen for representatives of the Chattahochee Fall Line Conservation Partnership at a nesting cluster on Fort Benning.

FORT BENNING, Ga., (Sept. 11, 2013) -- The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced $3.1 million in grants will be awarded to 15 partners of Chattahoochee Fall Line Conservation Partnership in support of preserving the longleaf pine ecosystem, including $350,000 to aid Fort Benning's restoration efforts.

The announcement was made Sept. 4 at Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center. Grants are funded through Longleaf Stewardship Fund, which aims to restore more than 14,000 longleaf pine habitats and 140,000 acres for management practice, technical assistance and education to private landowners.

The Department of Defense assists in funding the program to create buffers around military installations to prevent encroachment from incompatible land uses such as residential development, said Cynthia Jester, deputy director of the Army's Regional Environmental and Energy Office. Speaking on behalf of John Conger, acting deputy under secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, Jester said the Department of Defense will add 5,000 acres of new longleaf pine forest and enhance more than 63,000 acres of forests protecting Fort Benning, Tyndall and Eglin Air Force Bases, Naval Air Station Whiting Field and the Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point.

Partners of the conservation program include private land owners, nonprofit organizations, public agencies, elected officials and community leaders from West Georgia and East Alabama. According to information provided by the Chattahoochee Fall Line Conservation Partnership, partners will encourage the protection, restoration and management of up to 40,000 acres around Fort Benning explicitly for conservation purposes by the year 2020.

"The project around Fort Benning is reaching out to private landowners and we're trying to get more land around the base and keep land that is already in longleaf in a well managed way," said Amanda Bassow, director of the Eastern partnership office at NFWF. "DoD has already provided a good deal of support of this grant financially."

Bassow said the longleaf pine ecosystem is valuable in providing shelter for rare gopher tortoises and red-cockaded woodpeckers as well as a hunting ground for bobwhite quail and white-tailed deer.

"The longleaf ecosystem is a unique ecosystem because it provides amazing habitat for a diversity of wildlife, but it's also a highly valuable resource as a timber product and it's a cultural icon in the Southeast," Bassow said.

John Brent, chief of the Environmental Management Division for Directorate of Public Works, said Fort Benning has a long standing role in longleaf pine conservation.

"Fort Benning has been committed to environmental protection and resources conservation for a number of years," he said. "Since the early 1990s, we have planted over 25,000 acres of longleaf pine and we are looking at an additional 5,000 acres. It's important in maintaining our mission and to protect the longleaf system, which is one of the most important ecosystems in the country."

Fort Benning is also of one 13 red-cockaded woodpecker recovery locations in southeastern United States, said Pete Swiderek, from the Directorate of Public Work's Conservation Branch, Environmental Division. Swiderek said there are currently 332 breeding groups with a goal of reaching 351 potential groups on Fort Benning. Clusters are recognized by white bands painted on trees within a 200-feet radius. These clusters help to examine nesting activities and require certain protective guidelines for military training, he said.

Michele Elmore, Chattahoochee Fall Line project director for The Nature Conservancy, said the grant will also support the Army Compatible Use Buffer, or ACUB, program to identify priority land around the installation. ACUB allows military facilities to partner with agencies and non-governmental organizations to share the cost of acquiring conservation easements from willing landowners.

"With this grant, we aim to expand our partnership work to landowners for conservation and sustainability by deflecting land uses among Fort Benning and protect habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker," Elmore said.

"Healthy longleaf forests provide places for our community to live work and play and will provide sustainable training lands for our military."

Page last updated Wed September 11th, 2013 at 12:12