Army's commitment to endangered species unparalleled
May 15, 2008
On May 16, 2008, Endangered Species Day, America celebrates its endangered species success stories. From American icons like the bald eagle and the gray wolf to lesser known frogs, tortoises and birds, several of those successes are built on the strength of Army environmental programs.
Per acre, the Department of Defense has more threatened and endangered species on its lands than any other federal agency. The Army is home to more than 170 of the 1,800 species listed as threatened and endangered in America on approximately 100 different installations. As a federal agency, the Army complies with the provisions of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to protect the federally listed threatened and endangered species on its lands. The Army has devoted in excess of 40 million dollars to the conservation of endangered species on its property.
"Of course, lands on Army installation are intended to support training operations and weapons testing," said Jay Rubinoff, a wildlife biologist at the Army Environmental Command. "But, by their nature, these lands are protected from growing populations and community development. As a consequence, these areas have become, in many instances, some of the country's last remaining large undeveloped land areas, islands of biodiversity, with significant animal and plant life."
The bald eagle is one example of an endangered species seeking refugee on military lands to escape urban development. When the bald eagle was officially taken off the endangered species list in the summer of 2007, it was a high profile example of the Army's efforts to bring endangered species back from the brink of extinction.
"Certainly, the Army is partially to thank in the national fight to save these magnificent creatures. Of all threatened and endangered species found on Army installations, the bald eagle is the most common, "said Col. Michael P. O'Keefe, commander of the U.S. Army Environmental Command.
Over the past five years, the Army has spent more than $7 million dollars on bald eagle management. At Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, one of the eagles' prime nesting areas in the mid-Atlantic, the Army has tagged bald eagles with satellite transmitters to help monitor the birds' migratory paths. The data collected from studies like this will support the Army's conservation efforts by increasing the understanding of the natural migrations and behaviors of the birds.
Fort Riley, at the headwaters of the Kansas River, has become one of the largest bald eagle wintering roosts in the continental United States, with an observed high of 388 eagles using the roost in just a single night.
"Bald eagles thrive on our installations because of decades of sound stewardship practiced by Army Soldiers and Civilians. This success story highlights just one of many innovative and diligent efforts going on every day to sustain our precious natural resources." Col. Michael P. O'Keefe, Commander, US Army Environmental Command.
At the Minnesota National Guard's Camp Ripley, both the bald eagle and another American icon, the gray wolf, are thriving. Camp Ripley demonstrated their commitment to gray wolf conservation by developing the nation's only gray wolf monitoring and tracking programs. The gray wolf population on base is an example of biodiversity's compatibility with training. While the presence of a threatened species in the heart of an active training area could have the potential to negatively impact training, there is scientific evidence that the gray wolf population actually has greatly benefited from living on military lands. In fact, the Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment of gray wolf was taken off the endangered species list in 2006.
"Camp Ripley is home for two federally listed species, the bald eagle and the gray wolf. Both of these species are thriving on the base, in large part due to the work of your environmental staff working with all the people that use the camp for training." Dan P. Stinnett, Field Supervisor, US Fish and Wildlife Service, November 2005.
Another endangered species success story comes from Camp San Luis Obispo, home to the threatened California red-legged frog and primary training site for the California National Guard. Making its home in the rich ecosystem along more than 44 miles of streams on the installation, the red-legged frog has sought refugee at the camp in a time when urbanization and reservoir construction in Southern California has destroyed much of the frog's natural habitat.
To accommodate the installation's rosy - speckled residents and to improve the overall health of its training lands, Camp San Luis Obispo staff stabilized the land along stream banks where the frog lives because it is extremely sensitive to the effect of eroded sediment in streams. Camp San Luis Obispo's efforts to control erosion were so successful that they earned the 2007 California Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award for Watershed Stewardship.
"Our soil stabilization and erosion reduction efforts provide a benefit for the red-legged frog and sustain our training lands as well," emphasized Maj. Nicole Balliet, Garrison Commander at Camp San Luis Obispo.
Moving inland in California, Fort Irwin protects the imperiled Mohave ground squirrel. This squirrel is listed as threatened by the state of California and is found only in the western Mojave Desert. On Fort Irwin, it is found within the recently annexed western expansion area of the National Training Center. The fort identifies new locations for the presence of the squirrel by conducting annual surveys. Fort Irwin also monitors known squirrel populations every three years. Monitoring the Mohave ground squirrel will eventually demonstrate the Army's impact on the squirrel's population. Though only listed as threatened by California, Fort Irwin voluntarily provides the same level of protection to the Mohave ground squirrel as that of a fully protected, federally-listed species.
Over on the other side of the country, mechanized training at the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's Fort Indiantown Gap continues while a sensitive species of butterfly is flourishing. The regal fritillary butterfly was close to becoming a federally endangered species until the Pennsylvania Guard stepped in and relocated mechanized training areas around butterfly habitats on base, without interrupting training activities. Because the base is primarily designated for Soldier training, every acre of the post is needed in some way to support realistic training for National Guard Soldiers.
"If we could we'd just set the grassland aside for the regal fritillary butterfly," said John Fronko, environmental program manager for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and leader of the natural resources conservation team. "Since land is a finite resource around here, though, we put our heads together and found a win-win solution for our Soldiers and our butterflies."
One solution is virtual mine fields. Fronko said the installation avoids mechanized training on 219 acres to preserve butterfly habitat by assigning some of that area as virtual 'mine fields' in training exercises.
"That way we are still able to maintain realism and meet our training doctrine requirements at the same time," he said. Fort Indiantown Gap protects the country's single, largest population of the regal fritillary butterfly, estimated at around 1,000.
The red-cockaded woodpecker lives on nine Army installations throughout the Southeast to include Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Polk, La. Fort Bragg had to impose training and construction restrictions in 1996 to protect the red-cockaded woodpecker and its longleaf pine forest habitat to comply with the Endangered Species Act. However, since then Fort Bragg and its natural resources conservation partners have turned the effort into a success story. In 2005, Fort Bragg surpassed its population goal for the woodpecker, a level set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, five years early.
Tad Davis, the Army's deputy assistant secretary for environment, safety and public health, said Fort Bragg's success at recovering endangered woodpeckers shows that environmental and military training goals can be compatible.
"This recovery validates the success of the Army's ongoing sustainability efforts, demonstrates our commitment to preserve precious natural resources and amplifies what we can achieve by working together with community partners."
Some Army installations have been so successful and instrumental in providing the conservation and management needs of proposed species that their efforts alone precluded the need to list the species, such as slick spot peppergrass at Orchard Training Area in Idaho and mountain plover at Fort Carson in Colorado.
"The very habitats that ensure the survival of threatened and endangered species also ensure that the American warfighters are the best trained in the world," explained O'Keefe. "Fighting to prevent extinction and promoting recovery of sensitive species are just other battles the Army has taken on and is winning."