Managing the largest longleaf pine-wiregrass ecosystem in Georgia –– as well as vast tracts of environmentally sensitive forested areas -- provides the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield natural resources conservation team with a big challenge, as well as a great opportunity.
“Our team manages some of the most biologically and ecologically diverse areas in Georgia, and we recognize the value and importance of these unique resources and their contribution to the diversity of the region,” said James Heidle, Public Works director. “This is a complex assignment, and we partner with federal and state agencies, universities, research institutions and non-governmental organizations to ensure that environmental activities are backed by the best science available.”
In addition to the longleaf pine-wiregrass ecosystem, the team also manages 139,700 acres of pine forest, 74,000 acres of forested wetlands, 9,600 acres of hardwood management areas as well as 58,300 acres of forest openings. Add to these large, raw acreage figures, the team also works to preserve seven species protected by the Endangered Species Act and more than 20 species of concern as part of the overall environmental management on the installation.
One important tool in the installation’s environmental arsenal is a robust Army Compatible Use Buffer program, which precludes incompatible development near the boundary of the installation that might lead to complaints from surrounding communities about smoke, dust, and noise resulting from military training and natural resource management activities.
The natural resources conservation team has fostered a strong and ongoing relationship with the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust, a leading conservation organization that since 1996 has protected approximately 400,000 acres through conservation easements and other land use mechanisms.
“Our team has formulated a superlative balance between military training needs and environmental sustainability,” said Thomas Fry, installation Environmental Division chief. “We’ve placed emphasis on enhancing the landscape’s suitability for training by improving visibility and maneuverability, reducing regulatory constraints and providing for the enjoyment and wise use of the installation’s bountiful natural resources.”
In addition to creating buffer areas and acquiring conservation easements, installation staff also partner with the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust team for specific forest management projects. Working together, installation and GALT team members managed controlled burns of more than 248,000 acres during the last two years. In addition, 6,000 acres of timber were identified for thinning and more than 500 miles of natural resources accessways were constructed or maintained, which aids both Soldier training and use of the land for recreational purposes.
Because of the vast amount of forest acreage managed by the installation, the DPW Forestry Branch plays an integral role in overall conservation and readiness plans. Over the last ten years, the Forestry Branch has burned an average of 120,877 acres and thinned 3,369 acres annually. These management practices not only improve and enhance military training, but they also help improve threatened and endangered species habitat. Among the species that benefit from these actions are the red-cockaded woodpecker, frosted flatwoods salamander and gopher tortoise. FSGA/HAAF contains some of the most biologically and ecologically diverse areas in Georgia. By embracing its unique natural resources and promoting creative solutions to ensure the sustainability of its military training capabilities, FSGA-HAAF has achieved tremendous environmental success that will echo well into the future.