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Military Practices Good Stewardship of Public Lands

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 24, 2010 – Thousands of volunteers are expected to descend on 48 military bases tomorrow to prune, plant, paint and otherwise show that the Defense Department is a good steward of its public land.

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An airman leads children in constructing a bat box as part of volunteer conservation efforts on National Public Lands Day at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., Sept. 25, 2009. U.S. Air Force photo

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The work is being done as part of the 17th annual National Public Lands Day, an event sponsored by the National Environmental Education Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency that encourages service and recreation on U.S. public land, which totals more than 190 million acres. Last year, about 150,000 people volunteered, foundation officials said.

The Defense Department takes part in the annual event as a large steward of public land. The military occupies about 29 million acres of public space – a total area about the size of Pennsylvania – in 400 locations, said Peter Boice, deputy director of natural resources for the department’s installations and environment office.

The department’s space covers all corners of the country and includes 420 federally endangered species, and 520 at risk of being deemed endangered, Boice said. Of those species, 40 are endemic to Defense Department properties, he said.

Boice dispels notions that preservation and military training are mutually exclusive. Rather, he says, steps to preserve areas are important to endangered species and the military. For example, he said, the Southeast is prone to the buildup of low-lying vegetation, which is a fire hazard. But curtailing the vegetation with prescribed burns preserves the habitat for species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, and allows better training sites for troops, he said. Such techniques enabled Fort Bragg, N.C., officials to reach their goal of 350 clusters of the woodpecker, he added.

“Usually we can comply with federal [environmental] laws, manage for stewardship, and provide high-quality training lands that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines need,” Boice said.

Besides preserving plants and wildlife, the department also cares for historical buildings, cultural sites, and natural resources on its land. The projects will be done in 23 states and include efforts to preserve Pleistocene fossils at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif.; to restore a monument to Buffalo Soldiers on Fort Bliss, Texas; to stabilize sand dunes at Fort Story, Va.; and to protect native Mojave Desert species at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.

“A lot of the reasons why folks volunteer is because it makes for more enjoyable experiences not only for our troops, but for their families as well,” Boice said, noting that some 3,000 people volunteered on 51 military installations on National Public Lands Day last year. “It’s one of the best ways to get people out and interested in our cultural resources.”

And getting volunteers has become easier over the years, Boice said. “I’ve found that there’s been a very significant increase in awareness of our natural and cultural heritage in the 20 years I’ve worked these issues,” he said. “There is still the potential for conflict, but in the great majority of cases, we manage well.”

Last year on National Public Lands Day, volunteers removed 900,000 pounds of trash; collected 20,000 pounds of invasive plants; built and maintained 1,320 miles of trails; planted roughly 100,000 trees, shrubs and native plants; and contributed $14 million to improve public lands.


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National Public Lands Day

Click photo for screen-resolution imageVolunteers clean headstones in Bragg Cemetery on National Public Lands Day at Fort Stewart, Ga., Sept. 25, 2009. U.S. Army photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageVolunteers clean up a pond and add native plants as part of National Public Lands Day at Fort Dix, N.J., Sept. 25, 2009. U.S. Army photo  
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