Thinning the herd
May 6, 2008
When employees of Joint Munitions Command installations need to find a good spot for hunting, sometimes they need look no further than the confines of their own installations.
Not only does JMC support the U.S. Armed Forces by producing high quality ammunition, it also offers some of the finest and most bountiful hunting grounds in the country.
"Hunting on JMC installations is allowed but only as a 'herd thinning' or management tool. It is part of a larger integrated natural resources management plan, which also includes agricultural outreach, wetlands conservation, forestry, endangered species protection, and fishing," said Salvatore Marici, management agronomist, JMC headquarters, Rock Island, Ill.
Ten JMC installations have hunting programs: Blue Grass Army Depot, Richmond, Ky.; Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, Independence, Mo.; Hawthorne Army Ammunition Plant, Hawthorne, Nev.; Holston Army Ammunition Plant, Holston, Tenn.; Milan Army Ammunition Plant, Milan, Tenn.; Iowa Army Ammunition Plant, Middletown, Iowa; Kansas Army Ammunition Plant, Parsons, Kan.; McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, McAlester, Okla.; Pine Bluff Arsenal, Pine Bluff, Ark.; and Radford Army Ammunition Plant, Radford, Va.
Most installations that allow hunting have primarily deer populations. But some have both deer and turkeys in large quantities and many also allow small game hunting.
"Each program is different on what can be hunted and when," said Marici.
The weapons allowed range from traditional bows and arrows to muzzle-loaders to shotguns. The annual harvest numbers more than 1,000 for deer alone throughout the command.
"All installations follow state laws for their hunts," said Marici. "All hunters must meet state eligibility requirements and hold a state license. Safety and security are chief considerations along with conservation. Each installation provides a safety briefing before hunts proceed."
For installations that allow hunting, there are advantages. Not only does it preserve natural resources, but it also generates revenue that is invested into the wildlife program under the Sikes Act. That act recognized the value and importance of military lands to natural resources. Its aim is to ensure that these ecosystems are protected and enhanced while allowing the lands to continue to meet the needs of the military.
"Because of the Sikes Act, funds that are raised in conjunction with these programs can only be used at the installations where they are raised," said Marici. Sometimes this money is the only source of revenue for that installation's natural resource programs.
Hunting programs also help the local economy because the programs attract many people from out of town and, in some cases, from across the country. The states benefit because all of the programs require a state hunting permit.
Whether or not the grounds are open to the public for hunting is up to the commander. "Hunting on military posts is not a right," said Marici. "The posts want to allow it as much as possible, but it is allowed only as it is necessary to manage the herd."
Radford has the most unusual situation for hunters in that the plant has two separate hunting grounds- one at the main plant which, for security reasons, is only open to plant employees, and one for the public at the New River unit in Dublin. These grounds are non-contiguous and five miles apart.
"The participants in the hunt at NRU are chosen through a lottery system run by the state," said Len DiIioa, natural resources specialist, Radford. "It is run by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries through a memorandum of agreement with the Army."
Approximately 240 individuals, from around 1,000 applicants, are selected each year at Radford, and it may take up to four years to be selected to hunt, DiIioa continued. The hunting season at NRU is divided between shotgun days and archery.
"Hunts on the main plant are limited to badged employees, active duty military and Department of Defense personnel," said DiIioa. "This hunt numbers around 75 participants." Because of its proximity to the plant, the hunting is limited to archery.
The largest program in JMC is the one at McAlester. McAlester is a participant in the Oklahoma Controlled Hunts Program and it is a favorite location for local hunters. The abundance and quality of quarry there, mostly large bucks, is what attracts them. "We have many White Tail deer with great antlers here," said Bill Starry, natural resources specialist, McAlester.
McAlester gets so many applicants per season -- more than 20,000 -- that a lottery is held by the state, with only 1,200 to 1,500 permits being given, according to Starry.
The McAlester hunts attract the public and involve so many of them that the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation provides a wildlife biologist to the installation. "If the installations did not sponsor hunts, then the deer population would have to be harvested officially because there would be overpopulation," said Starry. "The habitat would be stretched too thin and would not be able to support the herd."
Pine Bluff has a system to keep track of hunters. "When hunters check in, they swipe a card which tells when they got there and when they left," said Charles Becker, natural resources specialist, Pine Bluff.
The Lake City hunting program is open to employees of the plant only, according to Bill Minner, hunting coordinator, Lake City. There are limits as to how many bucks per hunter may be harvested on Lake City. "Hunters may take three bucks altogether; one during early archery season, which is the early part of the hunting season; one during late archery season; and one during shotgun season," said Minner. "The only limit on does is the number of tags the state allows you to purchase. Currently, there are so many does on the plant that the more that are harvested, the better off the herd will be."
The hunting program at Kansas has a limited future with its impending closure due to BRAC 2005. However, for the time being, the plant has a very active program.
"Kansas is well known not only for its deer hunting, but also turkeys," said Chris Deurmyer, natural resources manager, Kansas. "Applicants for the program have come from as far way as Alaska and Louisiana."
The number of animals in need of harvesting has to be determined before the hunts can proceed. The method used for deer at McAlester, for example, is explained by Starry, who works with the state biologist on this.
"Population surveys start in January and include counts of the broodstock," he said. 'Broodstock' refers to the population of mature bucks and does. "In March, browse surveys are conducted to evaluate the deer's use of the habitat. Following this, a classification is performed in August to calculate buck to doe ratios and establish recruitment. All of these surveys are used to determine the harvest for that particular fall."
Conservation of natural resources is a paramount consideration for any organization that has, in its care, vast amounts of wildlife habitat. And the Army takes this responsibility very seriously. Sponsorship of hunting programs, such as the ones on JMC installations, goes a long way toward natural resource preservation because they seek to conserve valuable natural habitat.