Where Military and Conservation Standards Meet
Federal agencies are required by the Endangered Species Act to assess effects of their actions on listed species. If information on impacts is lacking, the US Fish and Wildlife Agency is required to give the benefit of the doubt to species protection in decisions requiring restrictions on agency activities.
The presence of Federally-listed threatened and endangered species (TES) and their habitats on Department of Defense (DoD) lands has a significant impact on current and future training and testing mission activities. By land area, DoD has a higher number of endangered species than any other Federal land management agency. On DoD installations, soldier access and use of training and firing ranges has been significantly limited on large areas of lands and water as a result of protective restrictions. Research and mitigation of military impacts on TES allows relaxation of TES restrictions and military lands and supports soldiers’ ability to train to required standards.
Maintaining Mission and Environmental Policies
Scientists at ERDC’s Construction and Engineering Laboratory (CERL) and Environmental Laboratory (EL) performed innovative research to monitor and assess the impact of military training and testing on TES habitats and populations on military lands. ERDC researchers conducted leading-edge research in population ecology, population modeling, genetics, habitat selection, and physiology to evaluate effects of human activity, including military training, on TES. These research efforts developed and used innovative applications of remotely-sensed image technology, wildlife telemetry technologies, and audio and video monitoring capabilities that provide cost-effective methods to collect necessary data that were not previously available.
Because of the large geographic coverage and high temporal frequency, these approaches help:
- Provide an efficient supplement to costly field surveys
- Allow data collection in areas that are otherwise inaccessible to field surveys (e.g., impact areas, adjoining private land)
- Reduce TES restrictions on and increase warfighter access to DoD training lands
Supporting TES and Sustaining Combat Readiness
Reliable methods and technologies to discern the effects of military training on TES habitats and populations are important to both the conservation and training missions at DoD installations. ERDC research continues to play key roles in the optimal management of habitats that support TES and in the maintenance of the primary installation mission of sustainable training and combat readiness.
ERDC research has shown that in many cases TES conservation and recovery is compatible with ongoing military training requirements and that in most cases risks to TES are non-military related. It has been shown that habitat management for some TES provides vegetative structure and composition that is desirable for field training activities. ERDC TES research approaches and technologies have allowed an integrated evaluation of stressors on TES that places military-related activities in a proper context relative to other TES risk factors.
Seven TES species were identified as the most important and most likely to impact Army training in the near future. These species are the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), gray bat (Myotis grisescens), gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis), blackcapped vireo (Vireo atricapillus), and the golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia).
The following stories highlight how ERDC research helped lessen the impact of TES on military testing and training lands.
CERL research and technical support for Army consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supported a 60% reduction in the acres with restrictions on Army installations in the southeastern United States with populations of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW). As RCW populations reach populations goals on Forts Bragg, Stewart, Benning, and Polk, all restrictions on transient training activity will be lifted. Research on impacts of military training on the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker showed that transient military training activities did not limit populations of this species on these installations and that effective habitat management practices, including forestry practices and installation of artificial nesting cavities, were effective in increasing populations on military installations.
On Fort Hood, the Army installation with the highest census of nearly 50,000 soldiers, access to training lands is at a premium. CERL led the biological assessment of effects of training on two endangered species, the Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler. The results of the assessment enabled the Army to reduce restricted training access from 51,500 acres of training lands (nearly 25% of the total installation lands) to 9,500 acres. This biological assessment incorporated CERL research on training impact with data from installation monitoring and management programs. The assessment demonstrated that training activity was not limiting populations. In fact, populations were above recovery goals and management activities, such as cowbird control programs, were effective in maintaining populations of these two endangered species.
CERL is also working to proactively avoid problems with Species At Risk (SAR). In the Mohave Desert, the Mohave Ground Squirrel has been petitioned for listing which would significantly impact several major DoD installations, including Fort Irwin. CERL has developed innovate acoustic and non-invasive camera inventory and monitoring approaches for this species that are being adopted by other responsible agencies. These ERDC methods have already identified previously undocumented populations on non-DoD lands, which will reduce the possibility of the ground squirrel being listed and will reduce DoD’s responsibilities for recovery if it should be listed.
ERDCinfo@usace.army.mil, (217) 373-7256
Updated 25 August 2020
Ecological Processes Branch
Construction Engineering Research Laboratory | U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center