Larry Carlisle was destined to work with animals from an early age. When he was in third grade, he would wait until he was out of his mother’s sight before ducking into the desert for his daily walks to school at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix.
“She told me don't walk to school in the desert, but I did anyway because I was just so fascinated with it,” Carlisle said. “I could see road runners, Gambel’s quail and horned lizards and all sorts of cactus and hummingbirds and things like that. I was just totally, totally fascinated by it.”
A move to Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Georgia, brought Carlisle to Georgia. His love for wildlife didn’t stop.
“I continued to be fascinated with all the stuff that's in this state like gopher tortoises, longleaf pine trees and indigo snakes,” Carlisle said.
Carlisle’s childhood fascination led to working hands-on with red-cockaded woodpeckers on Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield when he joined the Directorate of Public Works Fish and Wildlife Branch as a wildlife biologist in 1994. He worked his way up to supervisor in 2010 and then branch chief in 2019.
As a wildlife biologist, Carlisle conducted RCW cavity tree surveys, early-morning banding, nighttime roosting, preparing tree clusters for prescribed burns by the Forestry Branch, and more. In his almost 30 years on staff here, Carlisle has been steadily growing the RCW population to its recovery threshold.
“In the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recovery plan for the red-cockaded woodpecker, Fort Stewart was supposed to achieve 350 groups of woodpeckers before we could consider this population recovered,” Carlisle said. “Most other installations and most other state-owned and private properties had been growing all this time, too. The woodpecker is in much better shape today than when I started working here in ‘94. When I when I started working here in ’94, we had 150 groups. This past breeding season, we had 612. We've far exceeded our recovery threshold.”
The steady growth of the RCW population here allowed training restrictions associated with the species to be dropped in 2012. Dropping the restrictions opened previously closed areas to maneuver. This benefited 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers who call the installation home, resulting in increased training opportunities.
“When we reached that recovery threshold we took down all the all the reflective white bands off of all the woodpecker cavity trees,” Carlisle said. “We took down the diamond yellow signs that designated Soldiers were near a red-cockaded woodpecker cluster, which allowed them to not have to worry about that when they're out there in an actual training scenario, they could just go through the woods the way they needed to.”
In addition to protecting wildlife, the Fish and Wildlife branch contributes to the readiness of the 3rd Infantry Division and other units from the Army and sister services by working with landowners who own property adjacent to the installation. The partnerships are codified by the Army Compatible Use Buffer under the Defense Environmental Restoration Program. The lands are not purchased from the owners, Carlisle said. Instead, conservation easements are placed on the lands of willing neighbors that ensure any use is compatible with Fort Stewart’s mission.
“For the most part of the easements around Fort Stewart are working land easements, so the landowners continued to use their land as they did before the easement was on it,” Carlisle said. “Whether it's growing Vidalia onions or planting pine trees or having a hunt club, they continue to do that. Those properties still stay on the tax rolls so counties aren't missing out on the income that they're expecting from taxes.”
A recent ACUB effort underway in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Conservation Fund, the Nature Conservancy and others is to protect the Altamaha River corridor on the southwest of Fort Stewart by piecing together a conservation area with little to no development in the coming years to allow for aerial maneuvers between Townsend Bombing Range near Darien, Georgia—operated by Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina—and Fort Stewart’s artillery impact area.
“You could have fast movers coming in off the ocean to drop bombs at Townsend and then use that same corridor to get to Fort Stewart without blasting people's eardrums out who might live underneath the flight path,” Carlisle said.
Another project with readiness implications is the 2010 purchase of Elbow Swamp by the Georgia Alabama Land Trust, another Fort Stewart ACUB partner, to create a wetland mitigation bank, Carlisle said. The wetland credits are used to offset the environmental impacts from building new training facilities like ranges on existing wetland. The installation already has several wetland credits saved from past range projects not built due to funding shortfalls.
Fort Stewart Garrison Commander Col. Manuel Ramirez said efforts like these are a testament to Carlisle’s commitment to conservation.
“Larry and team are deeply embedded with their conservation partners,” Ramirez said. “Together, they are working hard to protect lands around Fort Stewart in continuation of our premiere power projection platform capability to provide our nation trained and ready forces."
Carlisle and his team ensure that the flora and fauna of Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield work in harmony with the installation’s primary mission of training our nation’s military. Wildlife stewardship and land conservation efforts make that possible. At the end of the day, though, Carlisle stressed that while the goal is to conserve the ecosystem here, he wants to public to know they can come see the wonders of nature here.
“All they need to do is get a permit from iSportsman,” he said. “You purchase a hunting permit or a fishing permit or just a recreational permit to pick blueberries and a bird watch if people are interested in seeing how really beautiful this landscape is. A lot of people are surprised it's a military installation. They think it's just a barren landscape until they get here and realize that there are so many threatened and endangered species here, so many state-listed species, intact longleaf pine wiregrass ecosystem--that's very rare these days. They can come see it for themselves.”