Land Management on a busy Army training installation requires flexibility, and an ability to adjust to varied circumstances to meet the mission.
“The range of customers (Reserve, Guard, and others) are wide and varied, so our rotations are very busy – lots of four-day weekends, or large-scale exercises that the U.S. Army Reserve, and Army National Guard hold annually,” said Brooks Lundeen, coordinator of the Integrated Training Area Management program at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.
“We can go from 10,000 Soldiers on the ground, in short order, to maybe just a few in a matter of days. Our cycle of intensity of training is a very narrow window because of who these guys are: They typically work 9-to-5 jobs outside of their duties as Soldiers, and we have to make the schedules work.”
The definition of success for those varied training exercises is not just providing the necessary space and conditions at the right times but includes careful consideration of how to preserve and protect the plant and animal species that are found on the installation. To achieve that level of success takes a team effort, Lundeen said.
“When working with [Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division] Natural and Cultural Resources Branch staff, we do get along. We have built trust with one another and realize, if we do our due diligence up front, it can be really productive and consider everybody’s needs. It is important to know that relationship must be built and sustained. It’s just like a marriage,” he said. “I know people are passionate on both sides, passionate about the wildlife and environment, passionate about training the Soldier – those things have to mesh.”
“I love seeing the turkeys, butterflies, and the various plant species. If they are here, it means we are doing a good job, and I want to do that. I want to protect them too – I have that same goal,” he said. “None of us would be here without the Soldier; we wouldn’t be relevant. That’s always been a reminder on either side – the Soldier comes first.”
Getting that mix right considers many factors, including the understanding that the land disruption that training can bring to the installation is often a key to endangered-species preservation, something that can seem counter intuitive.
“We have [animal and plant species] that are not located anywhere else in Wisconsin anymore, and there’s a reason for that – we have it here because of the disturbance, and that’s why the habitat exists, because it was burned by us or stampeded (trained on by Soldiers) similar to what buffalo used to do when they roamed Wisconsin,” he said. “If we weren’t doing those things, we wouldn’t have those species present in the numbers we do. We have those species because we do actively manage and do allow the disturbance across the landscape.”
Lundeen, who has served as ITAM Coordinator at Fort McCoy since 2019, says his group is a key part of a broad coalition of professionals working on sustainable practices.
“ITAM is the bridge between training and environmental [requirements]. My main focus is on our lands, so they are sustainable in a readiness state. We are mindful of environmental requirements and the endangered species and pay close attention to that,” he said. “Training is still the driver but having that good working relationship and understanding how to communicate and work together is the key to it all working.”
He said that in addition to regular planning meetings and open communications, his team collaborates on a mapping project designed to identify areas on the installation that need careful attention.
“We have developed and update an environmental considerations map annually that shows what works where, and when, and what we need to pay close attention to. We work with the environmental team, and every year they help review the draft map. We add things like an eagle’s nest or a sensitive habitat site. Including those things shows we’re committed to protecting what’s there as part of effective land management,” he said. “Having those continued conversations, putting feelings aside and realizing we are all here for the same thing is important. We realize that if our natural resources management fails, we all fail.”
Lundeen credits Fort McCoy’s long-time commitment to effective land management as part of setting, a culture that seeks the right balance. He said the installation was part of a Training Area Recovery Program in the late 1990s which eventually “morphed” into ITAM. That, in turn, has created a culture of transparency and consideration of comprehensive land management. Through a special site request form, the ITAM team works with unit trainers to bring environmental and land management concerns into their planning process.
“We work with them to get [training plans] approved as requested, or shift it left or right to keep them out of trouble and keep everyone happy. It really works to go through that, to walk them through the process, answer any questions they might have upfront,” he said. “We work to get a little more face time with the Soldier, to be involved. Is it a little more work? Yeah, but it makes a difference.”