Refuge offers Soldiers wild sights
September 6, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Soldiers in B Battery, 95th Adjutant General Battalion joined the collective number of more than 1 million people who visit the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge each year.
Nick Plata, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge environmental education specialist, said human interaction has caused many species to go extinct. To put it in perspective, improper contact is similar to sending an artillery round downrange and waiting for the result.
"My great great grandfather lived in these mountains, so it's a very personal thing to me," said Plata. "Through environmental education we're teaching people how to come out here and coexist with the environment, not picking up antlers, not littering that kind of thing, leaving no trace and just enjoying it."
The Soldiers are working to recover from injuries so they can return to Basic Combat Training; move on to Advanced Individual Training; or in some cases, be discharged from the military. For them, the refuge was a break from their daily routine of physical therapy.
"They're here for long periods of time so we try to break it up so they're not at the barracks all the time, back and forth to [dinner] back and back and forth to PT so each month we try to do something," said Drill Sgt. (Sgt. 1st Class) Felicia Spikes.
"We haven't really gotten a chance to see a lot of Oklahoma, so being out and seeing all the wildlife is nice," said Pfc. Camile Tiong.
Tiong tore here lateral collateral ligament during reception at Fort Sill, prior to BCT.
"We're all just trying to get on with our training," said Tiong.
While they work to get physically ready for training, Plata gave them some tips that just might help when they're out in the field.
"Achilles used to treat his soldiers with this plant," Plata explained as he showed a local plant called Achillea millefolium, or Woolly Yarrow. "When they had wounds and they couldn't stop the bleeding they would get the top of this plant and crush it up and drop it inside the cut of the wound and it makes the blood coagulate and it fights infection."
He also showed them what plants can be used as a shampoo, anti-itch remedy, and natural insect repellant.
"I just love being outdoors," said Pfc. Nicholas Herr who grew up on a large farm in Ohio. "It's just nature to me, I love it. It reminds me of home."
As the Soldiers drove around the refuge, they made several stops to look at the bison, among other animals. Plata explained how powerful the two-ton animal is and how it is actually quite nimble despite its cumbersome build.
He said it would not be wise to get too close to the herbivore even if you are the fastest man in the world. Plata shared the fact that Usain Bolt, who set the world record in the 2012 Summer Olympics, ran an average pace of 23 miles per hour. The bison are capable of running 40 miles per hour.
"It's the closest I've ever been to a bison so that was pretty awesome," said Pfc. Raina Cote.
The herd seemed to watch right back, the Soldiers learned similar to the military, the wildlife also has a chain of command. The prairie dog would seem to be one of the lower ranking animals, but Plata said it's actually a keystone species.
"The black tail prairie dog is the most important animal we have out here," said Plata. "If you were to get rid of them you would lose over 170 vertebrae animals over time that depend on them directly or indirectly for survival."
Plata explained the worst thing a person could do is feed any wild animal, including the prairie dog.
Prairie dogs are adapted to surviving on very small amounts of water, and they normally extract water they need from the plants they eat.
When a human feeds them a piece of bread, or a potato chip, it throws off that balance in their diet. Plata drove home the point by sharing his personal experience.
"I worked at a plant and one night when I went on shift I saw a momma raccoon and two babies. They were scared to death and ran away as soon as they saw me," said Plata. "After that every night I'd sit down and be real still and I wouldn't move. It took about two or three nights before they got used to me they wouldn't run away anymore. So, I held out a piece of bread. They got so unafraid they would eat that bread out of my hand. I thought how wonderful. I love wildlife."
Plata continued this for a week or two and then went on vacation. During that time another employee was working his shift and bragged about the fact he killed a whole family of raccoons. A co-worker asked him how did it.
"He said they walked right up to me," recalled Plata. "They died because I was ignorant enough to feed them. I guarantee you if you feed a wild animal its life expectancy is going to go down to almost nothing."
Plata said knowing he caused that to happen still haunts him and he wants others to know how they interact with the wild does make a huge impact.
"Protecting the earth that's what it's all about. We're all in the same little place. We all share the same water, the air, the same space, we're all interconnected," said Plata.
For more information call the Wichita Mountains Visitor Center (580) 429-2197 or for tour reservations call, (580) 429-2151.