By Rita Hess (USAEC Contractor)August 8, 2019
Camp Blanding Joint Training Center (CBJTC) has a renowned natural resources conservation (NRC) program. Its staff fosters pristine habitats and remarkable biodiversity to ensure environmental conflicts never impede FLARNG's mission. The success of this premier training site for Florida Army National Guard (FLARNG) earned a 2019 Secretary of the Army Environmental Award for Natural Resources Conservation (Large Installation) demonstrating the Army's recognition of their efforts.
A major component of this success is the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA), which waives NRC compliance and consulting processes for all federal and state threatened and endangered species based on current habitat and land management practices. Simply put, due to their demonstrated exceptional management the installation is exempt from future species mitigation requirements. The enormous scope of the agreement further shields the FLARNG from species changes due to non-military causes, such as climate change.
"The CCAA is a game-changing accomplishment," said Paul Catlett, Camp Blanding's Environmental Program Manager. "As climate change continues to impact habitats and species populations everywhere, the protection afforded by this agreement is enormous."
The FLARNG, along with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), developed this novel approach to integrate NRC activities from the perspective of land management, with a military use component built into the land use design, rather than attempting to protect one species at a time. This unique move is just one reason for the NRC's environmental award. Their effective, creative use of resources is another.
Through a partnership with the Longleaf Alliance, the CBJTC works to restore longleaf pine stands, dedicating $15,000 for pine restoration projects, provided annually by the Alliance. Longleaf pine habitat remains a priority, as it supports red-cockaded woodpeckers (RCW), but harvesting has declined as pine stands mature and woodpecker clusters appear on their own.
In this shortfall, the NRC program identified a windfall. Camp Blanding's forests contain palmettos, and pharmaceutical manufacturers want the berries.
Working with state conservation offices to ensure no adverse impact, particularly to RCWs, the installation executed a palmetto berry harvest that generated approximately $480,000 in revenue for a resource that naturally renews each year.
It occurred in conjunction with a honeybee propagation project, whereby honeybees were used to pollinate the palmettos and generate more berries. CBJTC capitalized on this project, receiving a fee for hosting the beehives.
This harvest will supplement declining forestry revenue, helping sustain environmental programs with a resource that requires no special restoration investment.
CBJTC further stretches resources from the FWC, which provided $80,000 to $100,000 a year for the past half-decade in materials to reinforce road crossings along streams containing the state-listed Black Creek crayfish. This helps protect the species and preserves infrastructure used for military maneuver, resource management, and hunter access from hurricane and flood damage, when washout can cause sedimentation and turbidity.
A talented team works hand-in-hand to manage Camp Blanding NRC activities, including biologists, foresters, a GIS analyst, a conservation manager, environmental staff, trainers, and many others on post, as well as local, state, and national organizations.
Interagency collaboration on gopher tortoises, for example, allowed CBJTC to relocate tortoises to adjacent Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) property if impacted by construction or training activities, saving the installation thousands of dollars in permitting every year. At present, the ACUB encompasses more than 25,000 acres and provides the FLARNG with approximately $9.6 million in wetlands mitigation credits.
"All those involved deserve the award and--more importantly--the respect of their partners," said Col. Frank Zenko, post commander at Camp Blanding..
CBJTC maintains healthy habitat for wildlife and helps control invasive plant encroachment that threatens training areas. NRC staff also participate in state-led working groups to keep CBJTC's environmental goals at the forefront of operations on the installation.
CBJTC is considered an engaged, trustworthy partner to the community, as reflected in its investments in local education, from research opportunities and internships for college students and faculty, to engagement with younger local students and educators. Camp Blanding also provides hunting and fishing for FLARNG soldiers, their families, and the public on 50,000 acres administered by the FWC.
Without question, the habitat level CCAA is the NRC program's greatest contribution to the FLARNG training mission. It demonstrates military and NRC goals are compatible and, in fact, mutually reinforcing. Ensuring pristine training land created pristine habitat--a gold standard for landscape level management.
Further, the CCAA can serve as a model for other state guards and military installations who wish to follow the approach, versus negotiating protections on a species-by-species basis.