A dedicated, skilled environmental team, with diverse backgrounds and experiences, is credited with helping Fort Rucker make real strides in supporting wildlife and habitat, while maintaining the focus on providing critical training space.
“Our team brings a set of diverse and experienced backgrounds, and all of our team members have worked in many different environmental programs over the years and can successfully support one another and the comprehensive nature of our work together,” said Marty Daniel, Fort Rucker Natural Resources Branch chief. “We exchange ideas, perspectives and lessons learned, and work well together to achieve our goals.”
One example of this approach in action is the work the team did with Auburn University and State of Alabama wildlife and fisheries staff to study the white-tailed deer population on the installation. Research projects in 2011 and 2014 identified coyote predation and habitat competition from feral hogs as a driver in a drop in overall deer population and herd health.
Armed with this knowledge, the Fort Rucker environmental team helped establish guidelines for deer hunting designed to bolster the health of the herd, and launched feral pig and coyote trapping programs. At their peak, the programs trapped more than 90 coyotes a year and more than 1,400 feral hogs a year, which in turn bolstered the overall health of the deer herd.
The Fort Rucker team also partnered with Auburn University and the University of Georgia researchers to address a concerning decline in the eastern wild turkey population in the region and on the installation. The teams collected ambient sound in turkey habitat areas and are developing methods to determine turkey activity. The research is designed to understand “gobbling” activity and how location and land ownership (private vs. public), habitat variables and predator management programs all affect the turkey population. That work is ongoing.
Fort Rucker also has the largest non-private gopher tortoise population in Alabama. A survey in 2019 estimated there are 2,872 gopher tortoises on the installation. To protect this species, Fort Rucker environmental staff established a program to remove the tortoises from any areas where they could be harmed by installation activities or Army training. The team created a 1.5-acre enclosure for these tortoises to provide a safe, suitable environment for them for six months, after which they are relocated to a suitable environment elsewhere on the installation.
As part of this work, Fort Rucker has become a member of the Alabama Tortoise Alliance and works with other organizations, groups and communities to help conserve the species and communicate and collaborate on conservation planning and efforts. The goal is to boost the gopher tortoise population so that it no longer warrants state or federal protection.
Fort Rucker’s primary mission is to support aviation training programs on the installation’s 57,772 acres.