Change is a fact of life for the U.S. Army. Budget constraints, ongoing conflicts and the environmental challenge of protecting threatened and endangered plants and animals all jeopardize Soldiers' training opportunities. But on Oahu, even when confronted with those budget challenges, balancing and maintaining training with the island's natural beauty proved to be no match for the U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii's Natural Resources Team members.
Their hard work and resulting success recently earned the Schofield Barracks-based natural resource program one of the Army's most prestigious honors.

"Recognition by the secretary of the Army as having one of the finest natural resource programs in the Army is a public testament to the commitment, professionalism and dedication of the Natural Resource staff of U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii," said Col. Douglas Mulbury, commander, U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii. "Their work allows the Army to continue to train here and prepare for any contingency our nation requires of its Soldiers."

Engaging both internal and external partners was paramount to the Army's continuing to train and prepare for a variety of missions in Oahu, according to Michelle L. Mansker, NRT chief, Environmental Division, Directorate of Public Works.

Whether leading volunteers on a tour of facilities, monitoring the health of an endangered plant in a remote native forest of the Waianae Mountains or rappelling down Ohikilolo Ridge to check the endangered cliff-dwelling plants of Makua Valley, the staff did what was needed to preserve Hawaii's beautiful resources.

"This Natural Resource Program and our team could not have achieved success on their own," said Mansker. "It was imperative that we all work together with other land managers to conserve Hawaii's unique resources and species, because they are so rare and restricted in range."

With an annual budget of about $6 million, the Oahu NRT manages more than 60 federally listed species that inhabit more than 50,000 acres. That land includes six Army training ranges and enables roughly 20,000 Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine, National Guard and Reserve Soldiers, and law enforcement employees to conduct mission-critical training.

The NRT staff is on the go to ensure survival of unique Oahu species. Fifty-one native plants, seven kahuli tree snails, the Oahu elepaio bird, the Hawaiian hoary bat, two picture wing flies and one damselfly keep support staff, a fence crew, three resource management crews, and a nursery and seed bank management crew busy.

What began as a small staff in 1995 has grown to more than 50 with 90 percent of the staff in the field daily. They work with rare and endangered species in remote areas across the Waianae and Koolau mountain ranges. The team also uses volunteers recruited through outreach programs.

"We have a very active volunteer service program led by two professional outreach coordinators," said Mansker. "Over the past two years, the team has leveraged more than 11,000 volunteer hours during more than 100 service trips to the field."

Major team accomplishments during that time include collection of 5,800 endangered plants for genetic storage, the out-planting 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 its destruction by wild goats and pigs.

"We've come so far in conserving natural resources here on Oahu, and the great strides made are largely due to the staff's combined knowledge and skills in resource management along with their shared passion for protecting Hawaii's endangered species," said Kapua Kawelo, an NRT biologist.