WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii -- The Army's Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health presented the Natural Resources Conservation Team Award for 2011 to the Oahu Army Natural Resources Program, or OANRP, and U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii, here, May 5.

In accepting the award from Hershell "Hew" Wolfe, Col. Douglas Mulbury, commander, USAG-HI, noted that the award recognizes the "phenomenal job" performed by the OANRP team.

"Recognition by the Secretary of the Army as having one of the finest natural resources programs in the Army is a public testament to the commitment, professionalism and dedication of the Natural Resources staff of USAG-HI," Mulbury said. "From my perspective, the OANRP's efforts allow us to train our Soldiers to prepare them for whatever mission our nation asks of our Soldiers."

The award, announced in January, is part of the annual Secretary of the Army Environmental Awards Program that recognizes and rewards excellence for the development, management and transferability of environmental programs that increase environmental quality, enhance the mission and help make the Army sustainable.

Wolfe said that, while there are many good environmental programs in the Army, the Secretary of the Army staff looks for differentiation among the entries.

"Some of those qualifiers might be something significant or even small," Wolfe said.

He explained that what set USAG-HI apart from other entries was the way the OANRP approaches its natural resource challenges found only here in Hawaii, challenges such as invasive species that destroy plants, trees and bushes.

"USAG-HI needs to be proud of its environmental staff," Wolfe said.

"We're doing something special, and that's what motivates us each and every day," said Michelle Mansker, chief, OANRP Environmental Division, Directorate of Public Works, USAG-HI. "When we're out in the field with our hands in the aina (or earth), we're making a difference. We've actually saved two species from extinction; that's huge. Words can't describe how satisfying the feeling is."

The OANRP balances the military mission with managing more than 60 federally listed species on more than 50,000 acres of land, with an annual budget of about $6 million. The team supports six Army training ranges on Oahu through management of natural resources, enabling about 20,000 service members from the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, National Guard and Reserves, as well as local law enforcement, to conduct missions critical to training.

Fifty-one native plants, seven kahuli tree snails, the Oahu elepaio bird, the Hawaiian hoary bat, two picture wing flies, and one damselfly keep the OANRP's staff busy, ensuring the survival of these unique Oahu species.

What began as a small staff of four in 1995 has now grown to more than 50 personnel, comprised of species experts, a fence crew, three resource management crews, and a nursery/seedbank management crew.

Ninety percent of the staff is in the field daily, working with rare species in remote areas of the island across the Waianae and Koolau mountain ranges.

Major 2010 and 2011 team accomplishments included collecting 5,800 endangered plants for genetic storage, the outplanting and reintroduction of 8,500 endangered plants to their native habitat, and the fencing of more than 1,200 acres of endangered species habitat to stop destruction by wild goats and pigs.

The OANRP has now been recognized by Department of Defense.

As of May 1, the OANRP was selected as a winner of the 2012 Secretary of Defense Environmental Awards in the individual/team category.