Home on the Range: Wildlife, Training Share Common Ground
By Rena Clark
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 2, 2001 As Army National Guard units train to protect the nation from dangerous foes, its battle-ready soldiers share their training land with creatures in need of immediate protection: rare plants and animals facing the danger of extinction.
Endangered species, from the American burying beetle to the gray wolf, have found a haven on approximately 1.3 million acres of Army National Guard training land. Currently, 47 federal-listed threatened and endangered species call the training lands home, along with hundreds of state-listed species considered threatened, endangered or of special concern.
|The National Guard training sites listed below are among those with the largest number of federal-listed endangered or threatened species. |
Camp Blanding, Fla.
Florida panther Wood stork Red-cockaded woodpecker Chapman rhododendron Florida scrub jay Eastern indigo snake Bald eagle
Camp Shelby, Miss.
Gopher tortoise Louisiana quillwort Red-cockaded woodpecker Brown crawfish Black pine snake
Camp Roberts, Calif.
California condor Least Bell's vireo (bird) San Joaquin kit fox Bald eagle Purple amole (plant)
Camp San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Chorro Creek bog thistle Least Bell's vireo California condor California red-legged frog Steelhead (fish)
Camp Rilea, Ore.
Brown pelican Oregon silverspot butterfly Northern spotted owl Western snowy plover Marbled murrelet Bald eagle
The Guard's guide for balancing its training needs with a wildlife haven is the Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans, also called INRMPs. The detailed management plans integrate training requirements with natural resource conservation needs, so sites, which range from 40 to 140,000 acres in size, can accommodate everything from battle-training to bluebirds.
"The plans help us decide how to create better military training opportunities, while conserving the resources that the public has entrusted to us," according to Derek Halberg, natural resources program manager for the Army National Guard. He said plans are being implemented at 91 Army National Guard training sites considered to have significant natural resources.
The Air National Guard also is involved, though participation is limited. Many of its facilities are co- located with civilian airports or are tenants supported in the plans of host active-duty military bases. Nonetheless, Air Guard officials said, management plans are being developed for seven major sites: Otis Air National Guard Base, Mass.; Warren ANG Range, N.J.; McEntire ANG Base, S.C.; Selfridge ANG Base, Mich.; Volk Combat Readiness Training Center-Hardwood Range, Wis.; Smokey Hill ANG Range, Kan.; and Jefferson Proving Ground Range, Ind.
Federal law requires DoD installations to have INRMPs in place by Nov. 16, but the National Guard has been implementing plans for years, according to Halberg. When the federal law was passed in 1997, about 20 states were developing plans and six states had already implemented theirs, he said.
The Idaho Army National Guard, for example, jumped at the opportunity to develop a plan for its 138,000-acre Orchard Training Area. The site is situated entirely within the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.
"As the only heavy armor training area that is also part of a conservation area, we saw the need for an INRMP," said Marjorie McHenry, natural resource manager for the Idaho Army National Guard. "Because of our location, our actions require additional coordination with agencies. The INRMP pulls everything together."
Incorporated into the documents are plans to benefit training and nature by keeping the lands prairie-like. Some species thrive if fire singes the landscape. Training activities that may cause frequent, low-intensity fires mimic nature, Halberg said. As a result, certain moths thrive on training areas at Camp Edwards, Mass. One federal-listed endangered plant, Michaux's sumac, has been doing so well at Fort Pickett, Va., that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is able to transplant the short, stout plant to other locations.
To ensure the land remains open enough for training and species survival, several management plans call for prescribed burns -- fires set by professionals -- to clear brush from range areas. The American burying beetle depends on the open spaces created by fires at Fort Chaffee, Ark.
"We appreciate and applaud the Guard's commitment to maintaining open areas for training and for maintaining a well-managed ecosystem," said Scott Simon of the Arkansas field office of the Nature Conservancy. The international nonprofit organization is dedicated to the preservation of plants and wildlife.
Although the INRMPs focus on preserving land and wildlife, sometimes a plan must battle nature. Alien species that invade sensitive habitats are a huge problem, said Melissa Dumaran, natural resources conservation manager for the Hawaii Army National Guard. The state's 11 Army Guard training sites host 33 federal- or state-listed threatened or endangered species.
One example, according to Dumaran, is the Diamond Head Schiedea, or Schiedea adamantis. In the entire world, she said, the endangered shrub can be found naturally only at Fort Ruger Diamond Head Crater.
"Hawaii has the smallest land mass with the highest number of endangered species," she said. "A huge problem is that habitats become contaminated by weedy species, which get to new locations by traveling on training gear.
"The INRMP describes how we can educate soldiers so they will clean their gear. By doing that, soldiers will play a key role in curtailing the spread of invasive species that threaten rare and fragile species," Dumaran said.
There are many ways to balance training and conservation needs, but optimizing that balance will require a lot of feedback from those who design soldier training, said Halberg.
"The lands are there to support the mission," he said. "We must train to be prepared, and we also want to manage, conserve and enhance our natural resources. The good news is, we can do both."
(Rena Clark works in the National Guard Bureau Public Affairs Office, Arlington, Va.)