CAPE COD, Mass. – The Massachusetts Army Nation Guard’s Camp Edwards encompasses 15,000 acres used for active mounted and dismounted maneuver training for engineering, infantry, and field artillery units.
The training lands are surrounded by densely populated areas and contain 44 state-listed threatened or endangered species, including the Agassiz’s clam shrimp. In fact, the entirety of Camp Edwards has been designated as a Priority Habitat by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
The designation requires the Natural Resource Conservation program to complete rigorous permitting and mitigation processes for any habitat impacts that may occur. This year, the NRC program accomplished a dramatic breakthrough for balancing habitat with training expansion.
During the past two years, the NRC program for Camp Edwards negotiated a site development master plan permit for the training site with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. The permit agreement involved creating an onsite habitat mitigation bank, accruing acres through the implementation of projects detailed in the Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan for state-listed species habitat improvement.
For the banking program, the NRC program has agreed to conduct four acres of mitigation for every one acre that will be impacted by construction. Acres that have been restored during the past two years have been incorporated into the habitat mitigation bank to count against the new and proposed ranges. Additionally, NRC has facilitated transfers of excess state land as mitigation and is implementing extensive resource monitoring.
During mission support efforts the NRC staff unexpectedly came across a globally endangered species, the Agassiz’s clam shrimp. This newly found species indicates a symbiosis between military use and conservation. Prior to 2015, it was only known to exist in four locations, including one isolated wetland at Camp Edwards.
In the process of surveying roads for repair, the shrimp was found in puddles that pool in ruts and deeper potholes. Concerned that the species’ presence could limit operations, the NRC program widened its survey efforts and found that the shrimp appears to be quite common and widespread in the area.
The shrimp’s short lifecycle depends on the presence of shallow ephemeral pools like the kinds created by military vehicles. The NRC also determined that the shrimp spread from pool to pool throughout the installation’s roadways, which repopulated the species, allowing it to thrive on the training grounds.
In other words, military vehicles used for training are creating the ecosystem needed to save the Agassiz’s clam shrimp. In consultation with the MADFW, the NRC program is now developing a road maintenance plan that will balance road repair with the preservation of shallow puddles. The shrimp’s ability to thrive on the training site and the NRC staff documenting it at multiple sites throughout the region also suggests that the species is not actually as imperiled as assumed.
During the past year, the NRC program has also targeted several key habitats, including the rare pitch pine – scrub oak barrens. Mechanical thinning was completed on 120 acres of pine-oak forest, achieving a density that matches the historic character of the site and recovering a more open woodland with dense shrub thicket. This restoration also accounts for the construction of the new machine gun range – providing healthier, more resilient woodlands and rare species habitat.
The NRC program has helped transfer its techniques and management strategies to other working groups and technical committees working on species support throughout the region. Camp Edwards is a partner in interagency efforts for wildland fire, habitat restoration, and conservation of a wide variety of rare species including bats, rabbits, turtles, birds, and butterflies. NRC staff presented on Agassiz’s clam shrimp at a recent regional biology conference, encouraging other state and federal landholders to reevaluate the ecological role of ephemeral puddles and pools. In turn, this encouragement could reduce pressures for clam shrimp conservation.
“In every respect, Camp Edwards is an exemplar of the ways that environmental and military activities are thoroughly compatible,” said Jake McCumber, natural resources and training lands manager. “Camp Edwards’ example of establishing habitat mitigation banks is a programmatic innovation that could benefit any military installation. In particular, Guard installations can use the habitat enhancement they already conduct for proactive conservation to establish this sort of credit account.”