Research leader has seen many changes in land management but consistent focus on mission

By Thomas Milligan (USAEC)April 1, 2024

Daubenmire frame
1 / 7 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The Daubenmire frame is used for digital measurements of aboveground vegetation to better understand how vehicle disturbance affects plants. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
Soil Sampling
2 / 7 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Heidi Howard takes soil core samples to identify particle size. (Photo Credit: US Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Winter Soil Sampling
3 / 7 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Field team from Construction Engineering Research Laboratory measures soil responses post winter disturbance. (Photo Credit: US Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Drop Cone Measurements
4 / 7 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Heidi Howard takes drop cone measurements to better understand the land. (Photo Credit: US Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Field Measurements
5 / 7 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Team conducts field measurements to identify soil strength and vegetation responses to vehicle disturbance at Fort Riley, Kansas. (Photo Credit: US Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Fort Riley training land
6 / 7 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Studying the long-term vehicle impact/land management plots at Fort Riley, Kansas can help the Army better understand fundamental processes/operations during military training and identify what could be done to mitigate impacts. (Photo Credit: US Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Prescribed Burn Results
7 / 7 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Information gathered from long-term vehicle impact/land management plots help the Army develop models that express above- and below-ground biomass responses when prescribed burns are coupled with vehicle disturbance,

(Photo Credit: US Army)

As a self-described “old-timer” in natural resources with more than 20 years of experience, Heidi Howard has had a birds-eye view of the changes that have shaped the Army’s approach to training land management.

“When it started in the late 1980s, Integrated Training Area Management was a research program with the objective to identify military impacts from training and to understand fundamental processes and what could be done to mitigate impacts. The idea of how to ensure that this didn’t happen in the future, though, wasn’t really a part of that thinking initially,” she said.

“I think one of the things that has changed is that there’s a better understanding of what sustainability means, and what it takes,” she said. “We definitely have a better understanding of the needs of the land—that’s morphed over the years.”

Howard, who works at the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory under the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is part of a more than 300-person team of engineers, scientists, technicians and support staff dedicated to developing technologies to provide high-quality facilities and realistic training lands for the Department of Defense.

Howard said the laboratory team’s work has helped the Army make great strides in not only protecting and sustaining land for training, but also protecting Army land and the animal and plant species that live on this land.

“Without realistic training lands, there’s no way we can have soldiers ready. That’s always the goal, that they have that training capability,” she said. “Our work, specifically ITAM work, is to provide the support to the installations to ensure sustained training capabilities are maintained and even improved. By creating the right conditions, we can preserve and protect plant and animal species as a part of meeting our overall mission.”

Howard said contrary to what some might believe, training activities and the land disruption that come with them can in fact provide critical habitat and breeding ground opportunities that would not be possible without the disruption.

“Training installations are reservoirs of a large number of species and of a wide range of biodiversity, and one reason is the impact of training activities,” she said, noting that training activities change the habitats regularly, which in many ways is critically important to the lifecycles of some species.

“A wide range of micro-ecosystems pop up in different areas of the installation, and that allows for a broader diversity of habitats. It’s just good. It mimics the natural processes that used to occur.”

“As far as installations and the Army, I am gladdened to see that there is continuing interest and accountability on how the lands are managed and sustained. The Army is really invested in sustainment and land management – stewardship is important,” she said.

Howard also said that close working relationships with federal and state regulators, to keep them aware, informed and engaged in the land management strategies and tactics, is a big part of a successful program.

“I think we do a good job of communicating to the regulators, and that’s important,” she said. “I don’t know if the general public knows or understands the benefits of training or military land management, or how Army training enhances natural areas.”

Howard points to her work in helping share information, research findings, and best practices with installations around the country, to continue to build on an Army-wide culture of support for effective land management.

“I am most proud that I have worked for the Army for more than 25 years, and I have worked on more than 100 installations,” she said. “There’s a great sense of pride for what I do and how it can fundamentally help so many front-line managers be ready to meet the mission.”