Editor's Note: The following article highlights efforts by the Air Force and Marine Corps to protect endangered and threatened species on their lands. This article is the second of two focusing on the Department of Defense's contribution to species protection and conservation. The first article appeared in the July/August 1996 issue of the Endanered Species UPDATE.
The Air Force manages more than 100 installations and training ranges on over 9 million acres of land. Many of these lands are in pristine condition because of the need for safety buffers around Air Force training operations. With more than 70 listed species known to occur on at least 45 installations, the Air Force invests more than $5 million for the protection of these species each year.
The Air Force has led the way in implementing ecosystem management within the Department of Defense (DoD). Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), located in Florida's panhandle, has more than 460,000 acres and contains some of the most biologically significant public land in the entire United States. More than 90 rare or imperiled species, including at least nine federally listed species, are found on the base. Although approximately 57,000 acres have been cleared for military activities, the majority, close to 385,000 acres, remain forested.
A 320,000 acre longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and wiregrass (Aristida stricta) sandhills ecosystem, representing the largest acreage of this imperiled natural community known to occur under single ownership, is the main focus of ecosystem management at Eglin. The integrated natural resources management plan centers on critical fire-maintained natural communities and is based upon tiers of ecological condition. The four-tiered land classification system is based on the quality and restorability of both natural and disturbed communities and the level of management required to achieve restoration. All management decisions are made under the "umbrella" of ecological integrity.
Successful implementation of ecosystem management at Eglin relies on ongoing cooperative partnerships with the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) and the University of Florida. Three related surveys, conducted by FNAI, identified occurrences of rare plants, high quality natural communities, and selected rare amphibians. These inventories have been fundamental to the development of Eglin's management plan. Research by the University in Eglin's sandhill community is measuring the responses of insects, birds, vegetation, and soils to different restoration techniques. A long-term research project is determining the status and habitat requirements of red-cockaded woodpeckers (Picoides borealis) on Eglin, which contains the fourth largest population of this endangered bird.
Arnold AFB, Tennessee, is also using ecosystem management to enhance its natural resources program. The quality and abundance of rare plants on Arnold is unparalleled in Tennessee; forty-nine rare plant species have been identified, including ten previously listed candidate species. The base also contains the only intact, large-scale barrens habitat in the state.
Arnold has drafted a new integrated natural resources management plan using a collaborative approach to decision-making, which ensures the views of all potentially affected stakeholders are incorporated into long-term planning. This process, which was a key factor in developing the plan, had not previously been used in natural resources planning within DoD. Participants represented a broad cross-section of interested parties and disciplines, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), U.S. Geological Service, state agencies and universities, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and DoD resource managers from several military installations in the Southeast. The approach encourages all stakeholders to voice their concerns early in the planning process, promotes effective planning, and greatly reduces the potential for delays in military activities. This collaborative approach, having proven to be successful on a relatively small scale, has significant potential for application in much larger regions.
Noise studies to evaluate the effects of military overflights on protected species are important to all Military Services, but are perhaps of most interest to the Air Force. At Goldwater Air Force Range (AFR), Arizona, the Air Force is conducting a study of the effects of overflight noise on the nocturnal desert. Using an ecosystem approach, researchers are studying the effects of overflights on several interrelated species in hopes of providing important information for all DoD managers in desert areas. The study is also focusing on species that have small home ranges that fall completely within a particular flight path, which allows DoD to determine the effects of overflights on species that are consistently exposed to noise from aircraft.
Partnership with The Nature Conservancy
All of the Military Services have benefited from a nearly decade-long partnership with TNC. The Air Force was the first Service to formally work with TNC, and the organizations continue to enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship. The two organizations are currently developing a Natural Heritage Management System to consolidate information regarding threatened and endangered species throughout the Air Force. (The Navy is working on a similar system.) The system will include information about the occurrence of endangered and threatened species, management recommendations to contribute to species recovery, and a geographic information system to map the location of existing and available habitat on Air Force installations.
The Air Force has also drawn on TNC's technical expertise to address many installation-specific issues. For example, a desert plant thought to be rare, the Merriam's bearpaw poppy (Arctomecon merriamii), was known to occur at Nellis Air Force Range, Nevada. During a biological inventory of the base, TNC discovered previously unknown populations of the plant. The existence of the additional populations led the FWS to remove the poppy from the former list of candidate species.
Red Wolf Reintroduction
Buffer zones around Air Force military training areas, such as air-to-ground ranges, runways, and missile launch areas, can have multiple uses including protected species management. Dare County AFR, North Carolina, played a major role in the success of efforts to reintroduce red wolves in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. An agreement between the Air Force and the FWS authorized release of red wolves (Canis rufus) onto the 46,600 acre air-to-ground range at the AFR. The availability of a large land area with limited public access was considered vital to the success experienced during the early part of the reintroduction program. The most consistent production of offspring of released wolf pairs has been on the Dare County Range. The Air Force also provides assistance by participating in field surveys, monitoring activities of the wolves, and periodically closing roads to protect active den sites.
Sea Turtle Protection
Tyndall AFB is one of several coastal Air Force installations in Florida which have aggressive programs to protect endangered sea turtles. Tyndall has the longest ongoing loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) monitoring program in the northern Gulf of Mexico - 18 miles of beach are monitored daily during the nesting season. Wire cages protect nests from predators, and those in danger of being destroyed by high tides are moved to safer locations. Natural resources personnel conduct controlled nighttime releases of hatchlings designed to mimic natural conditions, reduce mortality from predators, and correct for possible disorientation from artificial lights. Tyndall's management efforts have maintained hatching rates above 70%, significantly enhancing the population of this endangered species.
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