By Rita Hess (USAEC Contractor)March 14, 2017
Camp Ripley is the largest National Guard training center in the region. It hosts more than 450,000 man-days of military and civilian training annually. Lying at the confluence of three major rivers, Camp Ripley is also notable for its immense natural resources.
Its 53,000 acres are home to 665 plant, 203 bird and 51 mammal species, as well as 18 miles of Mississippi River frontage. It is home to 88 species determined to be in greatest conservation need. These species are the focus on many studies and are a driving force in the conservation activities taking place on Camp.
The efforts of the installation's Natural Resources Conservation (NRC) program in protecting natural resources, along with the vital training and testing mission of the facility, while working in conjunction with a wide array of federal, state, local and non-government partners, earned Camp Ripley the fiscal 2016 Secretary of the Army Environmental Award for Natural Resources on a large installation. This success allows them to compete for a Secretary of Defense Environmental Award later this year.
The support of Camp Ripley, state, county and local leadership became evident when, in 2004, Camp Ripley implemented an Army Compatibility Use Buffer (ACUB), expanding ecological preservation and protection of the military mission beyond its borders. It was recognized that encroachment of residential development not only threatens training, due to the large amount of noise smoke and dust produced at many training facilities, it also threatens natural resources and critical habitat.
Funded primarily by the Department of Defense, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and Morrison Soil and Water Conservation District, working alongside NRC staff, secured $1,200,000 in 2015 to support ACUB projects. Approximately $35 million dollars in both state and federal funds have been used to implement perpetual conservation easements and acquire lands for public access within the three-mile buffer.
Further demonstrating support of Camp Ripley, the state legislature designated the state Camp Ripley Sentinel Landscape (CRSL) in 2015. This designation formed a coordinating committee comprised of representatives from state and federal partners with priorities complementary to the CRSL and operating with a shared set of best management practices.
"For more than 30 years, the Department of Natural Resources has worked in partnership with the Minnesota National Guard. Together, we have successfully blended natural resource conservation and restoration with high quality military training," said Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner, Tom Landwehr.
This collaboration expands the tools available to limit encroachment on the installation and protect natural resources throughout the landscape. This demonstrated cooperation lead to the federal designation of the CRSL in 2016.
"With the addition of the Sentinel Landscape Program, our partnership has grown," said Landwehr. "The DNR is enthusiastic and committed to helping create a buffer around Camp Ripley that serves both a military mission and protects significant natural areas."
Camp Ripley's NRC staff has worked with partners on a wide variety of animal survey efforts. In 2015, as part of a capture release project, a golden eagle, a protected species under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, was fitted with a transmitter which revealed her 1,800-mile journey north and subsequent return.
NRC staff noted six bat species on Camp Ripley in 2015. Staff fitted female northern long-eared bats, a federally-listed species, with transmitters to identify roost locations. This builds on Camp Ripley's ongoing telemetry programs for wolves, bears and fishers. Additionally, the installation monitors a wide variety of state-listed species.
Camp Ripley manages its 32,000 acres of forest in mature growth stages and timber sales in 2015 raised $133,305. Prescribed fire is used to maintain vegetative health and reduce fuel loads in areas susceptible to wildfire.
In 2015, Camp Ripley continued to implement its Wellhead Protection Plan--sealing wells, sampling source water and monitoring groundwater. The installation also runs its own wastewater treatment plant.
The NRC program is rooted in community connection and education. Their environmental classroom hosts thousands of schoolchildren each year, and visitors see NRC participate in over 100 community events annually. Camp Ripley hosts hunts for civilians and military personnel and is helping complete Camp Ripley Veterans State Trail.