Ammunition plant captures natural resources conservation award
September 12, 2013
McALESTER, Okla. -- An Army installation synonymous with bomb and warhead production was recently selected by Army Materiel Command as having its best natural resource conservation program.
AMC named the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant here as having the best natural resource conservation program for a large installation within its command. The award is part of the annual Secretary of Defense Environmental Awards given for innovation and accomplishments in sustainable practice, environmental management and community outreach.
MCAAP covers 45,000 acres, which is about the size of Fort Smith, Ark., the second largest city in that state. It consists of 16,823 acres of timberland, 14,437 acres of grassland, 10,731 acres of brush land and 1,030 acres of aquatic habit and wetlands. It also includes 2,710 acres for mixed industrial, administrative, road and railroad usage.
It's a large responsibility for the Directorate of Engineering's Land Management Office, which is staffed by two Department of the Army Civilians and a full-time wildlife biologist provided by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
"Most of my cohorts contract out their natural resources [conservation program], but we do it ourselves," said Bill Starry, LMO chief. "We're the experts."
Quality deer management, agriculture outlease, invasive species control and pest management, threatened and endangered species, wetlands rehabilitation, and public outreach are the major components of the program.
MCAAP has a reputation as fertile deer hunting grounds, which Starry attributes to the LMO's quality deer management program. He said the change in 1989 to restrict hunting to traditional "stick and string" archery has stabilized the successful harvest rate at 13 percent throughout the years and has resulted in larger and healthier deer.
The annual hunt on MCAAP is co-managed with the help of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, which receives about 20,000 applications for the 1,600 permits it issues to the public each year.
Since 2008, Wounded Warriors have received six of the permits each year -- three for deer and three for the turkey seasons. In November 2012, Spc. Quinton Picone, son of Vincent and Sherry Picone of McAlester, bagged a trophy buck. The nine-point, 175-pound dressed buck beat the previous MCAAP record by two pounds.
"We have one of the premier deer hunting locations in the nation and most wildlife species in Oklahoma, [the hunters] will see them here," Starry said about the bobcats, coyotes, fox, deer, turkey, raccoons, possums, swamp rabbits and other animals on MCAAP.
MCAAP also has a robust agriculture program. Five tracts of land totaling 20,747 acres, including 2,651 acres for native grass production, are leased to the public. Leaseholders agree to a services-in-kind agreement and provide required services such as food plots and brush hogging on the remaining acreage.
Starry said he is particularly proud of their work to re-introduce native Eastern Gamagrass in hay meadows across the installation. He said the native grass which was nearly extinct benefits the land and wildlife.
The installation is also home to some unwanted flora and fauna. The LMO addresses those challenges through integrated pest management techniques which reduce the use of pesticides while also protecting the facilities and infrastructure.
A control plan was specifically developed for the invasive Easter Red Cedar Tree to limit its displacement of desirable native vegetation. The plan calls for burning or cutting down the species, which is then either left in place for a prescribed burn or sunken in ponds and lakes where it provides habitat for fish.
"In a natural resource system, fire is an important tool," Starry said. "It's really helped us control our invasive species."
Feral hogs are also a menace. They damage floral resources by rooting up pastures, destroy food plots and cause damage for adjoining landowners. Starry said eliminating the hogs is too costly and infeasible, but that LMO manages to remove up to 400 hogs annually through trapping, shooting and the use of dogs.
"It's a long term process; it's not something we can fix right now," he said about the rapidly growing feral pig population on MCAAP and throughout Oklahoma.
MCAAP faces a different challenge with the American Burying Beetle -- a federally listed endangered species -- and the only threatened species on the installation. It was first listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1989 and is now critically imperiled globally because of its rarity.
To protect the beetle, the LMO has developed a monitoring program in the Endangered Species Management Plan. The two-fold approach entails biennial surveys to monitor the overall health of the beetle population and an inspection that focuses on the habitat of the species.
Starry said that taking care of the land is the key to MCAAP's program. One project undertaken during 2012 was a 150-acre wetland rehabilitation. The wetland is primarily managed by raising and lowering the water level in accordance with seasonal rainfall. To maintain quality wetlands, the LMO developed a maintenance plan to preserve dikes and prevent damage by wildlife.
The LMO bolsters its program through community outreach. It hosts the annual Southern Plains Traditional Archery Tournament for several hundred archers from Oklahoma and surrounding states each July. In addition to the competition, the LMO gives interested archers a "velvet tour" to see MCAAP's trophy bucks while their antlers are still growing during the tourney.
It also uses the four, three-day Camp PLEA programs conducted by the Pittsburg Law Enforcement Association to introduce children to fishing and archery each year.
The LMO counts the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation among its partners.
"This award is a testament to the outstanding stewardship of natural resources and finite taxpayer dollars by our Land Management Office," said Col. Joseph G. Dalessio, MCAAP commander. "It's also a tribute to the exemplary relationships they've built and nurtured with federal, state and private organizations, as well as landowners surrounding the installation."
McAlester Army Ammunition Plant is the Department of Defense's premier bomb and warhead loading facility, and is one of 14 industrial facilities in the Joint Munitions Command. It is vital to ammunition stockpile management and delivery to the joint warfighter for training and combat operations.