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SAN ANTONIO -- The U.S. Army manages approximately 13.5 million acres of land across the country and depends on high-quality training ranges to conduct mission-critical training and readiness activities. In 2020, there were approximately 226 species listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act on Army lands, which formed the highest density of threatened and endangered species of all federal lands.

The U.S. Army Environmental Command provides technical support to installations through a combination of subject matter expertise, intra- and interagency collaboration, and innovative management strategies. USAEC’s team delivers environmental solutions that enable stewardship of rare and protected species while ensuring that Soldiers can train in a realistic environment with minimal constraints.

Much of what drives conservation on military lands stems from the 1960 Sikes Act, which promotes effective natural resource planning and collaboration with regulatory agencies on military reservations. The Sikes Act requires that conservation goals be cooperatively developed and recorded in planning documents called Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans. These plans identify specific actions to be taken to allow for outdoor recreation activities; maintain a safe and realistic training environment; and minimize effects to protected species while ensuring military mission requirements are met. Although management activities vary by species and installation, they often include species inventories and habitat enhancement, prescribed burning, and invasive plant and animal control.

Taura Huxley, a biologist in the conservation branch of USAEC, explained, “The Army has a unique role in stewardship of rare and protected species. Our training lands are among the last undeveloped areas in many locations around the world. As a result, healthy habitat and wildlife species can be found in surprising numbers. Through collaboration with federal and state regulatory agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations, we have developed innovative strategies to minimize or eliminate constraints on the Army’s mission while ensuring that sensitive species are protected. In some cases, the Army has become a key player in species’ recovery.”

One of the greatest success stories has been the Army’s contribution to recovery of the red-cockaded woodpecker. This species digs cavities in longleaf pines and uses them for nesting. Logging, development, and even hurricanes have impacted the woodpeckers’ habitat, which has been replaced over the years with hardwoods and other pine species. At Fort Polk, environmental staff perform restoration work for longleaf pine habitat on several hundred acres each year. They’ve also used artificial cavities that can be placed in any tree to provide additional nesting locations. After more than half a century on protection under the Endangered Species Act, federal wildlife officials have begun the process of downgrading the status of the red-cockaded woodpecker from endangered to threatened. Military installations throughout the southeast have been key players in red-cockaded woodpeckers’ population increase.

Successful stewardship ultimately depends on natural resources managers’ skills and expertise and their use of available tools, training, and resources. USAEC remains committed to making these resources available to installations so they can carry out the Army’s mission, while preserving, protecting, and enhancing the habitat and lands entrusted to them.