The Michigan Army National Guard’s Fort Custer Training Center (FCTC) spans 7,500 acres and is home to a vital, globally unique environment that is flourishing under the installation’s watchful eye. Unrivaled in their biodiversity, FCTC’s training site supports a wide variety of training aspects—land navigation, small arms, bivouac, improvised explosive device, and specialized convoy reaction training—all while having no adverse effect on wildlife. The installation also maintains and improves the surrounding land through pest management, wildland fire management, regional partnerships, and natural resource management plans.
Having long been known for its national resources conservation (NRC) program, FCTC has assembled an environmental staff that has aided the installation in natural and cultural resource management. FCTC became a nationwide leader in the development and current implementation of a climate preparedness plan—brought on by the Department of Defense (DoD) Climate Preparedness Pilot program. Through water monitoring, energy resilience, sustainability, wildlife monitoring, and forestry improvements, the installation’s modernization in sustainability and environmental planning help to not only maintain, but also enhance the quality of the land surrounding the installation. It is through these efforts that Michigan Army National Guard’s FCTC won the 2020 Secretary of the Army Award for Natural Resources Conservation in the small installation category.
To maintain a proactive approach to climate change, the DoD selected FCTC as the Army representative for the Climate Change Preparedness Pilot program. FCTC is the first installation to develop and fully implement the climate adaptation plan successfully.
“FCTC is part of the Michigan Climate Coalition and is also working with other stakeholders to process environmental data and adjust its management goals accordingly,” said Michele Richards, MIARNG Natural Resource Manager.
The data collected identified the potential for significant shifts in the regional flora and fauna, and FCTC is planning and identifying best practices that accommodate both present and future habitats. The NRC staff has partnered closely with statewide organizations to work to mitigate the installation’s affect on endangered species and habitats. Prescribed fire monitoring, modernized forestry techniques, and wildlife monitoring are a few ways that FCTC has adjusted its maintenance to implement its climate preparedness goals.
Habitat management is the motivation for wildlife support, and FCTC will prioritize which habitats they should invest in to obtain the best results. The training center staff ensures that the wildlife in the area is free from the encroachment of invasive species and not further disturbed by destructive forestry techniques.
FCTC and partners combined their data and planning to improve the installation’s prescribed fire management program by determining the best fire application regimes to promote the growth of native plant species and to control the invasive ones. During each burn, NRC staff record temperature, wind speed, flame height, and spread rate conditions so they can learn when and how best to conduct a burn. They are also examining how to time burns so that they have minimal impact on wildlife species and avoid affecting nesting season and hibernation emergence.
FCTC has transformed its forestry and timber harvesting. Rather t
han the traditional methods of using skidders and dragging cut trees across the land, NRC staff now use high-tech harvesters, which uproot only the targeted trees and cuts them to size in place, preventing unnecessary damage to the land and surrounding valuable tree species.
FCTC is initiating a new hybrid wildlife-monitoring program that replaces traditional live trapping methods with remote motion-sensor cameras.
“We’re trying to determine whether cameras could effectively become the primary monitoring method,” said Curt Roebuck, FCTC site environmental manager.
Staff also use acoustical monitoring—similar to what is used to monitor bats—to conduct reptile and amphibian surveys. This acoustical monitoring may later be used to monitor other animals.
FCTC has the largest number of solar panels of any military installation. It has established a microgrid and solar power project that, when implemented, will provide an immediate and uninterrupted source of electricity through a dispatchable generation hub for interconnected military facilities. FCTC’s comprehensive surface water-monitoring program measures water quality at 32 test sites on the installation.
The expertise of FCTC’s NRC staff and its partners has helped to minimize management costs while adding to the wealth of data and knowledge these institutions can share. These groups are collectively working hard to find ways to harmonize present and future habitats.
The mission at FCTC supports the environment and the community. From conducting prescriptive deer hunts for veterans and the general public, to supporting environmental projects that benefit the community, FCTC is a valuable asset to the military and Michigan.