In the center of the four-state region known as the Ozark Plateau and surrounded by the 1.5 million acre Mark Twain National Forest, Fort Leonard Wood is an ideal location for Army training as well as a rare ecosystem to preserve and protect.
Finding the balance between ecosystem protection and the need to provide land for training and access to the natural resources for recreation are the driving goals of the FLW natural resources team, which has launched a series of initiatives to strike the right mix.
“The overarching goal is the health and well-being of Fort Leonard Wood personnel and the long-term protection and conservation of natural resources,” said Mr. Kenton Lohraff, Natural Resources Branch chief at the installation. “Natural resources conservation is integral to environmental quality. Fort Leonard Wood’s conservation performance depends heavily on continuous improvements in policies, planning, implementation and operation checking and management reviews.”
By careful land management, controlled burns, wetland protection, recreational emphasis, and close attention to threatened and endangered species, the team has made great strides in creating the right environmental conditions for all the needs at the installation.
Two streams, the Big Piney River and Roubidoux Creek, pass through FLW and are critically important to endangered species found at the installation. This includes the eastern hellbender, the largest salamander in North America, which can reach over two feet in length and is found in the Big Piney River.
These unique amphibians play a vital role in the clear Ozark stream habitats in which they still survive. Hellbenders are completely aquatic, prey primarily on crayfish, and have been experiencing dramatic population declines over the past couple of decades likely due to habitat and water quality degradation. FLW staff are part of a wide-ranging, multiagency effort to protect the species and its habitat.
The team is also leading efforts to study and better understand the interplay between certain species of fish and endangered mussels in the streams and rivers on the installation to determine the best ways to preserve both.
Another challenge for FLW staff is continued efforts to control the emerald ash borer. This invasive species is well on its way to killing most of the ash trees in North America and was discovered in 2016 on FLW. To combat the spread, FLW released parasitoid wasps at test sites. In 2019, FLW staff placed pheromone traps designed to capture the wasps. The capture of the parasitoid wasps indicated success with the biological control program and monitoring of emergent insect pests continues.
To deal with several invasive plant species found at FLW, the team used a combination of prescribed burning, mechanical treatment and herbicide application to maintain and restore habitats. In 2021, the team initiated an installation-wide, planning-level invasive plant species inventory.
Another major initiative is the team’s development of an Integrated Wildland Fire Management Plan to provide wildfire control and fuel management on ranges and training areas, as well as managing desired vegetation and landscape characteristics.
The FLW team oversees the management and maintenance of more than 76 miles of firebreaks to aid in managing wildfires, and each year approximately 2,000 acres of prescribed fires are conducted to reduce encroaching vegetation on training areas, reduce wildfire risk on firing ranges, and improve natural habitats for wildlife, including the endangered Indiana bat and threatened northern long-eared bat. FLW is home to a diverse array of wildlife species including 13 bat species; three of which are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Prescribed burns improve flight paths and foraging grounds for the bats.
Historically, the landscape was more open in this part of the Ozarks, and burning helps maintain open areas and promotes the growth of native warm-season grasses and wildflowers which are important for many pollinating species including species of concern such as the monarch and regal fritillary butterflies.