Army Guard takes top honors in Army environmental awards program
Paul Catlett, the environmental program manager at Camp Blanding, Fla., inspects portions of a project at the installation to restore 500 acres of land unable to support plant growth as a result of mining operations in the 1950s. The restored land no... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Arlington, Va. -- Efforts to protect the Earth and increase areas for training helped net the West Virginia and Florida Army National Guard top honors in the 2016 Secretary of the Army Environmental Awards.

The West Virginia Army National Guard won the small installation Natural Resources Conservation category for efforts at Camp Dawson, while the Florida Army National Guard won the Environmental Restoration category for its work to restore 500 acres of land at Camp Blanding.

The annual award recognizes excellence in natural resources conservation, sustainability, waste reduction, pollution prevention and other "green" efforts at Army installations worldwide.

Efforts at Camp Dawson in West Virginia included an integrated invasive species eradication plan that uses species mapping in order to replace invasive plants with native grasses and plants. Replacing invasive plants with native varieties not only restores the ecosystem, said Guard officials, but also opens up additional training areas for Soldiers while allowing greater habitat areas for native wildlife.

Additionally, Camp Dawson officials reduced conservation costs by using Army engineer units training at the post to complete a variety of projects, including the creation of a pond to enhance other habitat areas and serve as a resource for fire suppression efforts. Those projects fit into the units' training plans, said Guard officials, while providing long-term benefits to the installation.

Meanwhile, the Florida Army National Guard restored 500 acres of land at Camp Blanding contaminated in the 1950s by mining operations. Those operations left virtually no organic materials that would support plant life, said Florida Guard officials.

Restoration staff at Camp Blanding worked with county agencies to reintroduce organic material in order to turn sand into viable soil. The staff also sought ways to address issues with stormwater runoff and created areas that capture soil runoff from heavy rains. Those remediation efforts also limit nitrogen and phosphorus from entering the St. John River, stemming algae growth and improving water quality for local wildlife.

Long-leaf pine trees and other native plants were planted in the reclaimed areas, with additional plantings planned for the coming years said Florida Guard officials.

Other Army Guard efforts received runner up finishes, including natural resources conservation efforts at Fort Custer, Michigan, the work of the Kentucky Army Guard in improving environmental quality, and sustainability efforts made by the North Carolina Army Guard.

Both projects by the West Virginia and Florida Army Guard move on to compete in the Secretary of Defense Environmental Awards program.