FORT RUCKER, Ala. (August 29, 2013) -- More than 60 landowners and managers from across the South came to Fort Rucker to learn about the installation's conservation efforts, as well as share their experiences.

The Directorate of Public Works, in conjunction with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Alabama Association of Conservation Districts, Fort Rucker hosted the Wildlife School for Landowners course Aug. 22 and Aug. 23, and the installation couldn't have asked for a better turnout, said Doug Watkns, DPW Natural Resources Branch manager.

"The turnout was excellent and the weather was perfect," he said. "This partnership program with NRCS was a great opportunity to exhibit the land management practices that are here on Fort Rucker, and it was helpful to discuss the other options with other land managers as we are all searching for ways to cut costs and improve results."

The two-day course consisted of classroom time and time spent in the field. The indoor sessions covered topics ranging from wild pig damage and control, introduction to timber management, managing pine for native plants, deer management, and managing food plots and wildlife openings.

"The subject matter that we covered was an accumulation of topics that are common to all land managers in the Wiregrass area," said Watkins. "We have found economical ways to successfully address many of these areas and we are proud to showcase this effectiveness."

The day following the classroom sessions gave participants a chance to get their boots dirty and actually see the conservation efforts that Fort Rucker has in place, and many were impressed by what they saw.

"We wanted to see what type of wildlife and timber management practices were being accomplished on Fort Rucker," said Tim Albritton, NRCS state staff forester, "and the amount of timber and wildlife management is at a higher level than expected; I was pleased to see this."

The group was taken to different locations throughout the installation and shown a variety of conservation efforts in timber management, such as thinning timber, how to deal with invasive species, prescribed burning, timber stand improvement and erosion control

From there, the landowners and managers were shown, in detail, how Fort Rucker traps coyotes as well as feral pigs, which are a detriment to the installation's turkey and deer populations.

More than 130 coyotes have been caught with traps since 2011 and more than 820 feral pigs have been trapped since 2009, said Ed Janasky, DPW director.

"The cost to us every year because of feral pigs is tremendous due to their destructive nature," he said. "The fact is we're trying to grow our turkey and deer populations out here, and the feral pigs and coyotes are destructive to that project and it's essential that we address the problems that we've got."

Fort Rucker's goal is biodiversity, as it supports military training, and part of that is maintaining healthy ecosystems throughout the installation, said Watkins. Attendees were able to see impacts of the various management systems and how they complement each other, and it's important to share this information so that people and entities can learn from each other, he added.

"Although management objectives remain fairly constant, the techniques to accomplish those objectives are constantly changing," said the branch manager. "Costs and environmental impacts are among the greatest concerns we have in accomplishing our mission in land management, and maintaining an open dialogue with all involved is the best way to advance programs."

Albritton agreed.

"The partnership with Fort Rucker is very important," he said. "The military is entrusted with this valuable resource, and part of their responsibility is to show the public it is being managed in a wise manner. Partnering with groups that have private landowners in their membership is a good way to help accomplish this public education task."