By Mr. Ryan Thompson (Leonard Wood)May 4, 2017
Fort Leonard Wood trains roughly 80,000 Soldiers and civilians annually.
Covering more than 96 square miles in the heart of the Mark Twain National Forest, the Army post is home to more than just men and women serving and training. Fort Leonard Wood also provides a habitat to a vast number of plant and animal species that call this installation home.
"We are unique here in the Ozarks. We have a lot of species that are representative of the eastern United States and we also have species endemic to the Ozarks. This makes Fort Leonard Wood very bio diverse," said Kenton Lohraff, Directorate of Public Works wildlife biologist.
One of the reasons Fort Leonard Wood is so bio diverse is the number of different types of habitats occurring here.
Bordered by the Roubidoux Creek on one side and the Big Piney River on the other, the post contains a large number of lakes and ponds offering aquatic habitats. On land there are Oak-Hickory forests, grasslands and stands of pine.
"Fort Leonard Wood has a lot of species you will find in the stands of pine that you won't have in the deciduous forests," said Dustin Moss, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wildlife biologist assigned to the Directorate of Public Works.
"Alternatively, we have a lot of species you can find in the deciduous forest that you won't find in other places on post. It's this variation of habitat that makes Fort Leonard Wood so diverse," Moss said. "If you leave the cantonment area there is so much that is out there. We have a prairie complex that is probably as close as you're going to get to what a native prairie looks like."
It is not just the amount of plants on Fort Leonard Wood, but the biodiversity in other species as well, Moss said.
We have documented 22 amphibians, 212 birds, 76 fish, 27 reptiles, 54 mammals, 781 plants and 31 mussel species here at Fort Leonard Wood, Lohraff said. Arachnid and other invertebrate inventories are currently underway.
Many of the species found on post are endangered or protected.
"Fort Leonard Wood currently has four federally listed species under the Endangered Species Act and five species considered by Missouri as endangered," Lohraff said. "We also have quite a few additional species that fall within Missouri's Species of Concern and are listed at lesser protection levels."
We spend a lot of effort in protecting and managing our listed species including survey efforts and habitat improvement, Lohraff added.
It takes coordination with many organizations to improve habitats and protect biodiversity on post.
"We have found a few patches of milkweed on Fort Leonard Wood and we have asked range operations to not have those patches mowed until the Monarch butterflies have been able to come in, lay their eggs, and complete the stages of their life cycle," Moss said.
Managing for biodiversity and protecting endangered species can impact military training, Moss said.
"The installation runs into issues with our Northern Long Eared, Indiana and Grey bats," Moss said.
These species are federally listed so measures have to be taken to protect them, Moss said.
"If caves are found hosting these species, then boundaries are created around them that limits certain training, such as smoke grenades," he added.
"We also have to limit cutting down trees to certain times of the year because these bats will use dead trees as roosts. This is especially true in the bivouac areas," Moss added.
In other instances, range management is beneficial for species.
"Take our declining grassland species for example such as Bob White quail," Lohraff said. "Some of our big rifle ranges create perfect habitat for a lot of these species. A lot of these species adapt to the noise and they are able to do quite well."
"Most management actions are complimentary to the military mission as part of healthy ecosystem management and responsible stewardship of training lands," Lohraff said.