At U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG), every day is Earth Day.
As a natural laboratory for testing virtually every piece of equipment in the U.S. Army’s ground combat arsenal, YPG has a vested interest in responsible ecological stewardship.
Located within North America’s most diverse desert, the proving ground is home to a vast array of wildlife, including Sonoran pronghorn, desert tortoises and one of Arizona’s healthiest and most genetically diverse populations of bighorn sheep. More than a hundred unique bird species pass through or call YPG home.
Recently, YPG’s Environmental Sciences Division has begun a pilot project to plant native species of plants and trees around populated areas of post and sustain the saplings without irrigation systems. Toward this end, the workers have planted the saplings using Groasis Waterboxxes, three-gallon lidded polyurethane buckets that slowly wick water onto the plant’s roots over the course of months and are refilled by rain water or condensation. Planting saplings in vertical shafts in the center of the devices also shields them from the intense heat of the desert floor until they grow hardier. The first batch of trees were planted around YPG’s Travel Camp in March.
“This whole effort has been to get trees that come from Yuma, that are hardy and ready for our climate,” said Daniel Steward, YPG wildlife biologist.
To celebrate Earth Day, Steward and Natural Resource Specialist Reed Rider got a hand from youngsters at YPG’s James D. Price Elementary School to plant a variety of Palo Verde, Ironwood, Honey Mesquite, and Desert Willow in a vacant lot near the school. The pair showed the kids how to assemble the Waterboxxes, topped with a protective sleeve to keep the saplings safe from nibbling rabbits and other creatures looking for a snack.
Steward won’t speculate how long it will take the trees to mature and how likely they are to endure the summer’s intense heat over time, but said a similar program at Arizona’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base has seen a better than 50% survival rate.
“It’s going to be slow-growing like our regular native plants, but we’ll hope for the best,” said Steward.
YPG officials vow that the annual Earth Day events and efforts to reintroduce native flora will persist into the foreseeable future.
“One of the great things about having good native habitat around our housing area is getting to enjoy the wildlife,” said Steward. “Things like our Vermillion Flycatchers and Says Phobes let us watch and relax, and hear their songs. If we can do things to help make our environment a little better for wildlife, we benefit: we’re part of the environment, too.”