Camp Ripley, spanning across 53,000 acres in Minnesota, has become known as one of the most ecologically pristine training sites in the nation. The Minnesota Army National Guard (MNARNG) has been recognized for its conservation and sustainability efforts at Camp Ripley and most recently was awarded the 2020 Secretary of the Army Environmental Award for their Natural Resources Team.
Not only does the installation support training for the MNARNG, it also contains a treasure trove of plants and wildlife. This includes 600 plant species, 233 migratory and resident bird species, 51 mammal species, and 23 reptile and amphibian species.
With almost 20 miles of untouched Mississippi River frontage, Camp Ripley houses a diverse range of natural habitats. The MNARNG has always sought to protect these habitats through natural resources conservation (NRC) efforts; however, during the past two years, the NRC Team has intensified these efforts.
The NRC Team has created an even more comprehensive and integrated approach toward caring for the surrounding environment. Increasing collaboration between staff members of three of its departments -- Environmental Natural Resources, Integrated Training Area Management (ITAM), and the Department of Public Works (DPW) - has allowed the MNARNG to better align training area management with stewardship.
Open communication between these staff members makes efforts more efficient and avoids redundancies. This has helped the team achieve their goals in an incredibly cost-effective manner.
"The strengthening of the cross-functional team has made a significant and visual impact on Camp Ripley" said BG Lowell Kruse, Camp Ripley Senior Commander. "Their equal commitment to conservation and the mission has been clear through their many collective achievements.”
The creation of several new positions, such as the Training Area Coordinator (TAC) position, which acts as liaison between the team, military, and civilian personnel has enhanced communication channels between the team and Soldiers and enabled a variety of measurable accomplishments.
The forestry-timber program generates $80,000 to $90,000 each year. A native seed collection program, in which ITAM members collected roughly 4,000 pounds of seed in two years, saved approximately $60,000 in purchasing costs. Both were collaborative efforts.
The team’s efforts enabled acquisition of $12,000 in National Public Lands Day grants, which has been applied toward improving habitats.
One major success has been the positive impact on pollinator species, which have faced multiple challenges in the region, including habitat loss, impacts of pesticides, pathogens, and changing climate. For example, the monarch butterfly, which migrates more than 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada each year, relies on habitat in the United States along the way.
A mutually beneficial collaboration with college-age youth, through an interagency agreement with St. Cloud State University, provided three summer interns to support MNARNG and focus on controlling invasive species, such as vegetation.
The acquisition of a $150,000 landscape stewardship grant from the U.S. Forest Service enabled prescribed fire for more than 4,000 acres within the Camp Ripley landscape.
The team is gaining insight into wildlife habitat usage. One current initiative monitors eight black bears using radio telemetry collars; a similar technique was used to monitor turtle hatchlings and golden eagles.
MNARNG has established mutually beneficial community partnerships. The annual Earth Day celebration and the annual Water Festival, which hosts around 500 sixth graders, is an example of benefits from these partnerships.
Additionally, the NRC Team considers training promotion to be one of their primary focuses. For example, the team has conducted more than 50 presentations, tours, and briefs to approximately 3,000 visitors, Soldiers, and community groups, both at Camp Ripley and within the local community. By implementing training, the team in turn generates awareness, increases community support, and demonstrates an ongoing commitment to fostering environmental conservation at Camp Ripley.
In 2019, the Team developed and implemented a new forestry management plan, which laid out 10-year management goals.
“We have been very successful over the past two years and plan to make these efforts sustainable,” said Josh Pennington, Camp Ripley Environmental Supervisor. “We believe the forestry management plan will help us achieve this.”
The NRC Team’s work has helped Camp Ripley remain at the forefront of conservation practices and inspired others to strive toward a better future. Thanks to their innovative and collaborative efforts, hundreds of plant and wildlife species continue to call the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” their home.