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Wildlife conservation and the U.S. Army.

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Conservation of natural resources on the Army's 15 million acres (6 million hectares) has long been part of its heritage. In the 1870s, the Army sent cavalry troops to what are now Yosemite National Park and other future parks to protect wildlife from poaching and vandalism. In 1886, the cavalry arrived to protect the future Yellowstone National Park, and it remained there until 1916, when the National Park Service was created.

In the 1950s and earlier, the Army managed its property for hunting, timber harvesting, and agricultural use. During this period, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked with the Army on management programs to develop recreational opportunities. The Service, states, and Department of Defense recognized the importance of conserving fish and wildlife resources on military lands. Congress formalized the DoD's role in 1960 with passage of the Sikes Act.

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The Sikes Act provides a framework for cooperation among the DoD, Service, and state wildlife agencies in planning, developing, and maintaining natural resources on military lands while supporting military training. For its part, the Army works to conserve natural resources while creating the most realistic training possible for its soldiers. Amendments to the Sikes Act have expanded its authority to develop ecosystem-based integrated natural resources management plans (INRMPs).

As a component of INRMPs, the Army actively promotes the recovery of 188 listed species found on 102 installations (fiscal year 2005 data), and it has put tremendous effort into preventing the need to list identified species-at-risk. For example, the longleaf pine forests managed on installations in the Southeast such as Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Stewart and Fort Benning, Georgia, have been essential for increasing the population of red-cockaded woodpeckers (Picoides borealis), an endangered bird. Fort Hood, Texas, has one of the highest populations of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia) thanks to habitat management and the control of cowbirds, which parasitize warbler nests. Camp Shelby, Mississippi, has prepared a candidate conservation agreement with the Service to ensure that the Camp Shelby burrowing crayfish (Fallicambarus gordoni) will thrive into the future. The Service determined that, with implementation of the agreement, the crayfish no longer required status as a candidate for listing. Personnel at the Yakima Training Center, Washington, have managed their population of the Columbia Basin greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus uropbasianus) through fire control, habitat management, and population enhancement to ensure this distinct population segment (DPS) does not dwindle. Yakima's efforts over the last few years have contributed to reducing threats to this DPS.

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An installation's natural resource management and conservation activities are delineated within its INRMP. These plans are essential for the Army's successful conservation programs. Because of the effectiveness of these INRMPs, Congress amended the Endangered Species Act in 2004 to allow INRMPs to function in lieu of a critical habitat designation if the Service or National Marine Fisheries Service finds that the INRMP provides sufficient benefit to a species. To date, the 11 Army installations have been excluded from critical habitat designation based on their INRMPs.

The conservation of listed species is only a small part of the Army's commitment to ecosystem health and sustainability. In 2005, the Army released its new "Army Strategy for the Environment." One of its cornerstones is a commitment to incorporate environmental considerations in all contingency and combat operations. This includes fostering an ethic within the Army that goes beyond environmental compliance and strengthens the Army's operational capability by using sustainable practices to reduce the environmental footprint.

This evolution in Army thinking has allowed for innovation and improvements in current operations. For example, Army installations such as Fort Riley, Kansas, and McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, Oklahoma, have restored cool-season grazing sites to high functioning warm-season grass prairies, which benefit both military training and conservation of prairie-dependent species.

Army installations also carry out invasive species control programs. Feral hog and cat control and the removal of such harmful plants as yellow star-thistle, purple loosestrife, kudzu, and saltcedar are just some of the invasive species battles taken on by Army installations. The Army is also active in the Partners in Flight program for migratory conservation. Army installations have set up monitoring stations and survey transects to help assess population levels of many migratory birds. Many INRMPs also contain management strategies to benefit, and minimize operational impacts on, migratory birds. Such strategies include changing the timing of field and forest activities to avoid nesting periods; protecting nests during training activities; controlling feral cats, cowbirds, and non-native birds; and educating installation staff and soldiers on wildlife conservation.

With continuing support from the Service and state wildlife agencies, the Army will continue to be a leader in the conservation of the natural resources that are so important to its training and testing missions.

Rosemary Queen is with the U.S. Army Environmental Center; Attn: SFIM-AECTSR, Bldg E4430; 5179 Hoadley Road; Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD 21010-5401 (NaturalResourcesTeam@aec.apgea. army.mil).
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Author:Queen, Rosemary
Publication:Endangered Species Update
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Words:819
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