FORT HOOD, Texas -- For the 15th consecutive year, this sprawling Central Texas Army post has been named a Tree City USA community by the Arbor Day Foundation.
Post leaders celebrated by planting another tree at the Pollinator Sanctuary here.
Fort Hood Garrison Commander Col. Jason Wesbrock was joined by Directorate of Public Works officials and a representative from the Texas A&M Forest Service to scoop soil, finalizing the planting of a new chinquapin oak tree, a species native to the Fort Hood area.
“Trees are an essential part of our community’s green infrastructure. Fort Hood is recognized Army-wide as leading the way, as we continue to take care of our natural resources,” Wesbrock said.
The garrison commander read a proclamation announcing Oct. 30 as Fort Hood Arbor Day.
“This holiday provides an opportunity to teach fundamental lessons about the stewardship of our natural resources, to learn what each of us can do to keep our community trees healthy and vibrant, and a time we can pause to appreciate trees in our lives,” he said.
Brad Hamel, regional urban forester for Central Texas, Texas A&M Forest Service, thanked the Fort Hood community and leadership for its commitment to environmental stewardship.
“This is a great time to rediscover nature and rediscover trees that we live around and see every day and appreciate them for what they are,” Hamel said. “I congratulate Fort Hood for being the leading military installation for Arbor Day and sustainability.”
Following the ceremony, officials toured the Pollinator Sanctuary and gained insight to the monarch tagging efforts of the Adaptive and Integrative Management program.
Chelsea Plimpton, pollinator biologist, explained how the AIM team for the past four years has been involved in the monarch tagging initiative spearheaded by Monarch Watch, a non-profit education, conservation and research program based at the University of Kansas.
“Right now, monarch butterflies are flying south to Mexico, and they’re funneling through Central Texas,” Chelsea Plimpton, said. “As of right now, we have tagged 2,164 butterflies since mid-September.”
She explained how the team collects data on each monarch that includes the date, time, recorded behavior, wing measurements, condition and even the weight.
“At times, we’ll see monarchs with very large, chunky abdomens, which indicate that they have had the opportunity to feed consistently on nectar sources,” Chelsea Plimpton said.
“Who knew a butterfly could be chunky,” Wesbrock said.
With the help of Chelsea Plimpton, Wesbrock delicately tagged and released Fort Hood’s 2,165th monarch. Placing a tiny tag on the lower wing of the black and orange butterfly, a unique identity code will help to collect data for monarch research.
The team also collects a sample of Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, also called OE, a single-celled organism known as a protozoan.
“In order to see the health of the monarchs that we capture, coming through Texas and Fort Hood, we like to see what the infection rate is,” Chelsea Plimpton said. “Monarchs with severe OE infections may fail to emerge from their chrysalis, while mild infections may interfere with their energy levels and ability to successfully complete the migration.”
Charlie Plimpton, avian biologist, added that until monarchs decide to migrate to Mexico, they will likely continue to feed on many of the flowers seen in the garden.
“We designed our native pollinator educational garden as a representation of some of the plants and habitats that you can see out on the ranges,” Charlie Plimpton said. “All of these plants are native to this region of Texas, which is important because it supports the biodiversity of Fort Hood.”
He added how the area is used as an outreach opportunity to help people understand why these plants are so important for wildlife, monarchs and other pollinator species.
“We try to have a high diversity of plants, flowers and grasses,” Charlie Plimpton said. “The higher the diversity, the more wildlife it can support, which is really important for all the habitats on Fort Hood.”
Brad Burden highlighted the process of how the team adds native plant life to the garden.
“Our greenhouse provides us a way to germinate the seeds that we collect from the training areas,” he said. “We also make our own soil composition to provide the best nutrients for our plants. We then plant them in our garden and throughout our grass beds here and native grasslands around us.”
Brian Dosa, director of Public Works, and Hamel then tagged the 2,166th and 2,167th monarch, adding to the team’s tagging efforts.
To learn more the about Pollinator Sanctuary, citizen science opportunities and the efforts of the AIM team, follow them at facebook.com/Fort.Hood.AIM.Team.