By Rita Hess, USAEC ContractorMarch 10, 2015
One of the most important training sites in the region, Camp Blanding Joint Training Center (CBJTC) is also known for its incredibly successful Natural Resources Conservation (NRC) program--so successful, in fact, that it won first place in the Secretary of the Army Environmental Awards in the Natural Resources Conservation - Large Installation category.
The 73,000-acre military training installation in northeast Florida is home to 19 federal and/or state listed threatened and endangered (T&E) plant species and 20 T&E animal species. CBJTC is also home to a groundbreaking study on controlling and eliminating disease-causing insects--a study that may save the lives of Soldiers and civilians around the world.
The environment is essential to the installation's NRC program. To provide appropriate habitat for the many native plants and animals, longleaf pine restoration is a priority. For example, as CBJTC converted from attack helicopters to Chinooks, which required larger landing zones, the NRC program closed smaller landing sites and converted them back to longleaf stands. The NRC program harvests sand or slash pine, generating $400,000--$500,000 each year that supports CBJTC and other forestry programs. The program also established an on-site nursery that supports restorations.
CBJTC has long had a robust wildlife conservation program, as well. The NRC manager sits on the state Gopher Tortoise Advisory Group, which develops management guidelines and permitting requirements. Through this collaboration, CBJTC can now relocate tortoises within the installation and its Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) land without permits, which streamlined management for this state-listed species.
Partnerships like these save money, as the permit requirement for tortoise relocation runs $10,000--$15,000 annually. The NRC program also established a 1,600-acre dedicated habitat parcel within the ACUB for relocating tortoises found in training areas, which eliminates military impacts to the species and training restrictions imposed by their presence.
Endangered red cockaded woodpeckers (RCWs) also thrive at CBJTC, so much so that the installation translocates RCW breeding pairs to state and national forests and other preserves. Installation biologists closely monitor RCW populations to determine how many birds can be moved while ensuring a stable population. CBJTC worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to establish a goal of 25 active RCW clusters (a family of two to five birds) to sustain the population. At present, the installation has about 30 active clusters.
Several years ago, the NRC program collared black bears on post with trackers to monitor the animals' movements through the area. The study resulted in an effort with Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) to connect CBJTC with two adjacent national forests to create a large, uninterrupted corridor for bears. The NRC program is now augmenting this effort with a bear population census to track individuals in the resident bear population.
University of Florida student researchers are helping the NRC program complete a herpetological study of wetlands wildlife. Last year, the program inventoried the state-listed Sherman's fox squirrels, which are declining throughout Florida but remain populous on CBJTC--possibly because of the installation's prescribed burn cycles and management techniques.
The USFWS approached CBJTC to establish a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances based on its excellence in managing species like the tortoise and RCW. The NRC program's approach, which manages by habitat "communities" rather than individual species, is extremely successful at creating overall ecological sustainability. The FWCC is also becoming a partner in this effort.
The installation's Integrated Pest Management Program (IPMP) is gaining international attention, as it brings together partners that conduct entomological research that may someday prevent insect-borne diseases like encephalitis, dengue, Lyme disease, West Nile virus and malaria.
"The IPMP has the potential to produce advances that benefit military branches, medical institutions and aid organizations worldwide," said Col. Perry Hagaman, chair of the Environmental Quality Control Committee (EQCC).
"It brings the Florida Army National Guard together with the World Health Organization [WHO], United States Navy Entomology Center of Excellence, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Army Air Reserve and the University of Florida in a partnership that can save countless lives."
Current projects test the efficacy of insect treatment methods--such as application, equipment, chemical composition and treatment timing--to prevent, reduce and suppress insects like sand flies, filth flies, mosquitoes and ticks. Several tests applied insecticides using C130 aircraft and helicopters, and other methods are being researched that target specific insect species' behaviors without adversely impacting all insects in the area.
Such research is crucial to readiness, as many warfighters are removed from duty because of diseases caused by pest insects. The installation's research on sand flies is of particular importance to deployed service members, as these insects can transmit leishmaniasis, a potentially devastating infection.
Last year, the World Health Organization selected CBJTC as a collaborative center to help independently test and evaluate equipment, materials and techniques for use worldwide. The benefits of this project truly are inestimable.
Closer to home, the NRC program repaired culverts and roads at 40 installation sites following two major storm events over the past two years, rebuilding or reshaping existing water control features and preventing silt deposits from occurring in water resources. Silt cleared from ditches is used for landscaping, fill and re-stabilization repairs.
The NRC program also enacted flood mitigation projects that protect infrastructure, homes and businesses on post and in its ACUB.
The decision to manage some NRC-related projects in-house has eliminated the need for costly external contracts. For example, in-house prescribed fire activities typically save CBJTC $450,000--$600,000 annually.
"The savings are significant," said Paul L. Catlett, Camp Blanding Joint Training Centers' environmental manger. "Additionally, fire promotes native longleaf pine restoration--the preferred habitat for red cockaded woodpeckers--and encourages grasses/forbs favored by gopher tortoises."
Used in combination with minimal herbicide treatment, prescribed fire also enables the NRC program to contain the spread of invasive plants. This year, five burns were completed aerially with FWCC equipment at no cost to the FLARNG. The NRC program also teaches and hosts firefighter-training events with federal and local agencies and municipalities.
The installation's ACUB protects the installation from encroachment while preserving pristine natural habitats that support the ecological diversity and health of CBJTC. Because of the program's partnership with the local water management district, two wetlands parcels were incorporated into the ACUB, giving the installation an immediate $2.5 million in wetlands credits that could offset construction and maintenance activities and certainly safeguard the long-term viability of CBJTC's mission. As an added bonus, Florida Forest Service manages the acquired wetlands at no cost to the FLARNG.
The NRC program negotiated several regional offsite mitigation areas as well, accumulating nearly 100 credits for future mitigation needs.
The ACUB acquired 1,600 acres in 2013 and 320 acres in 2014, bringing the total to nearly 19,000 acres.
Community outreach, education and awareness are also core components of the NRC program. The installation provides for University of Florida student and faculty researchers who want to contribute to their fields. CBJTC's ecological quality and diversity make it an ideal setting for research, so the NRC program supports their studies with access, equipment use, and sometimes grants. In return, the installation benefits from high-quality data and analysis based on state-of-the-art techniques and approaches. NRC staff members also reach out to high school and college students about pursuing careers in environmental management, perhaps through the FLARNG. For university students involved in the installation's IPMP projects, the opportunity to take part in cutting-edge research is unparalleled for both their academic and future occupational careers.
The goal, however, is to reach students long before college. Several hundred grade school students visit the installation annually for NRC presentations. During the bear collaring effort, NRC staff brought teachers from three local schools out; the teachers "adopted" a bear and created a class project to track and monitor their bears. Teachers may also attend a 3- or 4-day land management course for a continuing education credit while learning about educational resources FLARNG and CBJTC offer.
NRC program staff members participate in local events with other conservation groups, and they host school and scouting groups at the post's wildlife museum. CBJTC also supports a robust hunting and fishing program for the public and FLARNG soldiers and their families. The NRC Program also shares its expertise with other agencies and military departments locally and nationally.
The CBJTC's NRC program will go on to compete at the next level for a Secretary of Defense Environmental Award.
Owned and managed by Florida's Department of Military Affairs on behalf of the Florida Army National Guard (FLARNG), CBJTC specializes in training for light infantry exercises and serves as a logistical support base during federal and state emergencies, such as hurricanes and wildfires.