FORT BENNING, Ga. – The Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning community gathered April 18 to celebrate Earth Day with a fair featuring wildlife conservation and clean water initiative interactive displays held outside of the headquarters building. The observance theme was “Invest in Our Planet,” and highlighted both the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act and the 20th anniversary of the Army Compatible Use Buffer program.
Col. Colin Mahle, Fort Benning garrison commander, invited the crowd of more than 300 school children, Soldiers, and civilians to consider how they could personally invest in the planet. “Earth Day provides the opportunity to reflect on how caring for our environment proactively enables both the installation and the Army’s mission,” he said. “These initiatives demonstrate the installation’s commitment to invest in our planet as a means of enabling readiness, mission security, and sustainability.”
Paul Farnan, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy & Environment discussed how ACUB has enabled the U.S. Army’s mission while protecting the lands surrounding the installation. “There’s no better example of using ACUB and its successes like we’re seeing right here at Fort Benning with the red-cockaded woodpecker,” he said.
“The efforts here started back in the 1980s and by 2020, with the help of all of our partners, they have 412 breeding groups here at the installation which has surpassed the goal of 350,” said Farnan.
“The Department of Defense manages more threatened and endangered species than any other government agency,” said Kristin Thomasgard, program director for the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Installations & Environment) in her remarks made during the event.
“For 20 years, ACUB and REPI projects have contributed to a substantial investment of over $1.3 billion, protecting more than 770,000 acres of land around 38 Army installations in 27 states, supporting multiple species conservation and resilience projects — and we’re just getting started,” Farnan said.
“This is an exciting year (because)2023 is the (20th) anniversary of the ACUB program,” said Thomasgard. “Because of this program, there are going to be lands at Fort Benning outside the fence line that are protected forever.
She added that the total protected acreage stood at “36,000 acres so far, and we’re working on making that an even larger number.”
The U.S. Army provides a home to more than 250 threatened and endangered species on 120 sites.