FORT BELVOIR, Va. – Fort Belvoir’s Natural Resources Program has been very effective in both supporting the installation’s military mission and in achieving land management goals.
Of the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Belvoir’s 8,500 acres, nearly 5,400 acres are forested with another 1,085 acres of wetlands. Fort Belvoir also has 12 miles of shoreline along the western side of the Potomac River in Fairfax County.
“The mission of Fort Belvoir’s Natural Resources Management Program is to manage natural resources as an integral part of the military mission using sound ecological principles to conserve biodiversity and natural resources,” said Dorothy Keough, Conservation Branch chief.
Sizable tracts of publicly and privately owned land outside of Fort Belvoir’s boundaries are under conservation management, which highlights the importance of conservation beyond the post’s boundary. Conservation of the land affects the plants and animals that live inside and outside of the post.
The diversity of the land provides the perfect environment for a diverse plant and animal population. Some of the 483 plant species include some considered rare by the Virginia Natural Heritage Program.
The installation is also home to eight federal and state listed endangered and threatened species, with many more under consideration. Recorded on the installation are 43 mammal species, 278 bird species, 32 reptile species, 27 amphibian species, and 65 fish species.
Many Partners in Flight bird Species of Concern also call the installation home. The 2018 Fort Belvoir Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan was updated to continue to protect five conservation areas on post designated as Special Natural Areas between 1979 and 2016. This plan ensures that conservation does not inhibit the installation’s mission-essential training and support. These five areas make up a contiguous corridor for wildlife that connects the installation to off-post regional/state Park lands and National Wildlife Refuge habitats.
The INRMP was created in partnership and with the guidance of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Fort Belvoir’s Natural Resources Program Team, headed by Conservation Branch Chief Dorothy Keough, oversees the Garrison’s adherence to, and creation of, conservation priorities in compliance with laws and regulations.
During the implementation of the INRMP, the Natural Resources Program Team found the installation’s Geographic Information System to be extremely out of date. GIS is used for mapping existing natural resources, conservation actions, surveys, and training. Through innovative resourcing, the team was able to update and upgrade the data to produce high-quality layers and maps for the INRMP.
Fort Belvoir has combined wildlife needs with skills training on the installation. The Natural Resources Team enhanced the shelter and food resources available to amphibians, birds, and mammals by thinning all vegetation over 12 feet tall to reestablish early-successional habitat.
This change made way for a helicopter landing zone for Soldiers to use in Touch-and-Go Landings and realistic High Capacity Signal Training. The team also provided adequate land obstacles with felled pine logs by thinning an over grown pine stand for Soldiers’ Land Navigation Training. These actions resulted in high-quality habitat for amphibians and some PIF birds while also addressing military training needs.
“Management strategies, implemented by team work, to improve installation training land to ensure a positive military training experience, while promoting stewardship and sustainability throughout the community,” said Greg Fleming, Natural Resources Specialist.
For 20 years, the garrison and partners have held an annual Earth Day event that teaches school-aged children the importance of harmony between natural resource conservation and the military mission. The Fort Belvoir Natural Resources Team held an Earth Day event in 2019 to bring the team, a group of community volunteers, and Soldiers together in planting 65 trees in a section of the corridor that had been mowed grass in the past.
USAG Fort Belvoir is a leader in the transferability of their expertise and in promoting the harmonious combination of conservation and mission readiness. Together with their partners and stakeholders, they have been able to bring mission training and Army readiness together with the critical conservation of habitat and wildlife within their boundaries and beyond.