ONCE UPON A FOREST: FORT BUCHANAN PROTECTS THE PALO DE ROSA

Palo de Rosa 2

Victor Rodriguez Cruz braved an imminent storm to reach the pinnacle of a limestone hill, where a Palo de Rosa emerged from the Earth. Just beyond the tree, he peered at a valley where a bustling city on San Juan Bay had all but erased a once pristine, wild forest. “When a tree is lost, it is lost forever,” he said as he admired the Palo de Rosa’s verdant, glistening leaves.

Rodriguez Cruz manages the Natural Resources Conservation Program at Fort Buchanan, a United States Army Reserve-funded Installation near San Juan, Puerto Rico. In his role with the Directorate of Public Works’ Environmental Division, he leads the charge to protect the Palo de Rosa – one of the island’s most endangered trees.

Named for the distinctive red hue of its heartwood, the Palo de Rosa is indigenous to the limestone hills, or “mogotes,” of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service declared the Palo de Rosa to be endangered in March of 1990, when only nine trees remained in the forests of Puerto Rico.

Rodriguez Cruz pointed to a resilient tree. “They grow only on the tops of these mogotes. Is that their preference, or are those populations the only populations that are left?” he asked.

Under the canopy, he chronicled the rather somber history and unusual biology of the Palo de Rosa.

Its decline, he said, could be attributed to many factors.

Deforestation and urban encroachment have decimated the Palo de Rosa’s natural habitat.

In addition, the Palo de Rosa’s reproduction cycles are erratic, at best. Biological studies indicate that the tree may be a “mast flowering” species, or one that produces an abundance of fruits in some seasons but no fruits in other seasons.

Seed dispersal is also a challenge for the Palo de Rosa. The Palo de Rosa may be an “outcrossing” species, requiring the cross pollination of individual trees. Since its populations are so limited, the pollination process could be very difficult. Furthermore, the fruits of the Palo de Rosa resemble the fruits of trees pollinated and dispersed by bats. Any absence of bats, or other pollinators, could have contributed to the tree’s demise.

Fort Buchanan is one of the few places on Puerto Rico where the Palo de Rosa thrives today. Still, only 12 Palos de Rosa live on Fort Buchanan. According to Rodriguez Cruz, the trees at the Installation are some of the only trees on the island that are currently producing viable seeds.

Fort Buchanan, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources hope that these seeds are seeds of change.

In 2009, a Memorandum of Agreement between Fort Buchanan, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources  incorporated provisions for the protection of the Palo de Rosa into the Installation’s land use management plans.

The Fish and Wildlife Service uses Fort Buchanan’s trees to collect seeds to propagate the Palo de Rosa, enhance the Installation’s population and introduce them to other viable areas of the island. The Service also visits Fort Buchanan annually to monitor the health of the trees.

Fort Buchanan’s Directorate of Public Works has implemented numerous conservation measures as well. Reforestation has improved the environment for the Palo de Rosa and the post’s other endangered species, the Puerto Rican boa. The Directorate restricts access to the Palo de Rosa’s habitat, evidenced by prolific gold signs that relay a message of caution to Fort Buchanan’s residents. If necessary, the Installation limits the scope of military activity in those areas. They have eliminated the use of herbicides near the habitat. In addition, Rodriguez Cruz and his colleagues consistently educate Soldiers, Civilians and Families about their Installation’s unique tree.

Rodriguez Cruz crouched in the leaf litter to assess a tree’s roots. “Ultimately, we want to recover the populations of the Palo de Rosa so that the Fish and Wildlife Service can remove the tree from the Endangered Species List,” he remarked.

The loss of any tree would impact the survival of the Palo de Rosa, but Rodriguez Cruz believes that the loss of the species could broadly impact the culture of Puerto Rico.

“The Palo de Rosa is endemic only to the Caribbean, so the tree is a significant part of our natural heritage in Puerto Rico,” said Rodriguez Cruz. “Our natural heritage encourages tourism to our island, supports our economy and inspires our art.”

“Our flora could benefit us,” he continued, placing his hand on his chest. “Cures for cancers could be in these forests.”

Rodriguez Cruz regarded the Palo de Rosa once more. Then, he descended the mogote with the company of hummingbirds and lizards. He recounted Fort Buchanan’s important role in the protection of Puerto Rico’s special natural resources. In his voice, hope resonated – the hope that the Palo de Rosa will flourish with the spirit of the past and the hope that the Army Reserve can contribute to its future.

ARTICLE CONTRIBUTORS

Heather Brown, Army Reserve Sustainability Programs
Jonelle Kimbrough, Army Reserve Sustainability Programs
Victor Rodriguez Cruz, Fort Buchanan Directorate of Public Works – Environmental Division

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Army Reserve Environmental Strategy Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Major General Peter Lennon, United States Army Reserve Deputy Commanding General (Support), has signed the Army Reserve Environmental Quality Implementation Strategy and the Army Reserve Environmental Quality Policy.

The documents solidify the Army Reserve’s commitment to environmental stewardship with four strategic goals: to conserve natural and cultural resources; to ensure compliance with environmental laws and regulations; to prevent pollution of land, air and water resources; and to strengthen an integrated Environmental Quality Program foundation.

The strategy and policy also bolster Command support of sustainability objectives that will ensure continued readiness. Furthermore, they encourage Soldiers, Civilians and Families at all levels of the Army Reserve and its surrounding communities to foster a conservation minded culture.

“The execution of these guiding documents will serve to strengthen the Army Reserve’s ability to sustain the environmental quality of our land, air, water, and natural and cultural resources and therefore ensure the resiliency of our Installations and facilities across the Army Reserve,” said Paul Wirt, Chief of the Army Reserve Sustainability Programs Branch, which is a part of the Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate.

All four of the Army Reserve sustainability programs – energy, water, solid waste and environmental quality – now have signed implementation strategies.

The Army Reserve relies on dependable energy, clean water, accessible land and viable air to fulfill its role as a capable and resilient defense force, as well as its role as a good neighbor. “Sustainability enhances our readiness and resiliency for the mission and warfighters of today as well as the mission and warfighters of tomorrow,” said Wirt. “Sustainability allows us to adapt to constantly evolving military objectives, maintain our relevance, allocate our resources efficiently and reduce our environmental impacts.”

“Army Reserve leadership support for sustainability has been tremendous,” Wirt continued. “Such support lends invaluable credibility to our programs and will further the Army Reserve’s position as a pioneering leader in the Department of Defense. While there is still much to do going forward, our entire team is proud of the accomplishments we have achieved so far in establishing a solid foundation of culture change in the Army Reserve.”

FOR THE SAKE OF THE SNAKE: FORT BUCHANAN PROTECTS PUERTO RICAN BOA

puerto-rican-boa_oliveras

Actor Nicolas Cage once quipped, “Every great story seems to begin with a snake.”

At Fort Buchanan, the story of wildlife conservation begins with the Puerto Rican boa.

The Caribbean Islands host some of the most biologically critical and diverse snakes on Earth. The Puerto Rican boa, also known as Epicrates inornatus, is important to the environment and natural heritage of Puerto Rico. However, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has listed the snake as endangered since 1970.

Fortunately for the boa, the United States Army Reserve “has its six.” Fort Buchanan – an Army Reserve-funded installation near San Juan – is leading the charge for its protection.

The Puerto Rican boa is crucial in its habitat, the lush forests of limestone hills called mogotes. Adult snakes prey on pests such as rats and invasive reptiles such as green iguanas. Boas are vital components of the food chains of island birds including the Puerto Rican lizard cuckoo and red-tailed hawk.

As necessary as it is to the island’s ecological balance, the Puerto Rican boa is vulnerable to some formidable threats.

Introduced, non-native animals such as mongooses and other snakes are competing with the boa for habitat and food. In some cases, the interlopers are turning Puerto Rican boas into meals.

Deforestation, urban encroachment and pollution have damaged the boa’s environment. As an island species, habitat loss is especially troubling for the snake. Quite simply, they have no other place to go. “Its limited geographical distribution makes the Puerto Rican boa prone to extirpation by any change created by humans or natural causes,” said Victor Rodriguez-Cruz, an Environmental Protection Specialist with the Directorate of Public Works (DPW) at Fort Buchanan.

Furthermore, poaching has contributed to the boa’s decline. Hunters have coveted the snake for its meat and skin. As early as the 1700s, Puerto Rico exported the oil from the snake’s fat as a major commodity. “[The boa was] hunted and killed due to the belief that snake oil provided relief for aching joints,” Rodriguez-Cruz explained.

If the boa faced extinction, the biological diversity on Puerto Rico would be imperiled. Natural cycles would be disrupted, and the environment would certainly suffer. Nevertheless, the people of Fort Buchanan are working to ensure a hopeful future for the snake.

Initiated in 2013 and guided by a Memorandum of Understanding with the USFWS, Fort Buchanan’s comprehensive, ambitious boa program includes the management of both the species and the land on which it lives. The Installation’s DPW and its partner agencies are capturing, measuring and tagging boas, and they are performing other monitoring activities that help wildlife biologists determine boa populations, activity patterns and habitat uses. They are also enhancing the boa’s environment through reforestation and native plant restoration initiatives.

Innovative projects are driving boa conservation forward.

For instance, Fort Buchanan is investigating the use of an advanced technology called a Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag to study the boa. A PIT tag for a boa is similar to a microchip for a dog. It is essentially a “barcode” for an individual animal that can electronically transmit information on snake growth, migration and survivorship to the biologists participating in the studies.

Also, the Department of Defense Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) recently issued a grant to the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ Research and Development Center Laboratory to examine “soft release” for snakes that require translocation at Fort Buchanan. According to Rodriguez-Cruz, Puerto Rican boas have very cryptic habits. People rarely see them, but they occasionally venture into urban areas. Wildlife biologists must translocate the wayward snakes. With the soft release method, biologists capture boas in urban areas and move them to designated forests. There, the boas briefly live in man-made pens prior to their full release into the wild. Soft release allows the snakes to gradually acclimate to the forests and thus raises their probabilities for success. Rodriguez-Cruz said that the ESTCP project has the potential to increase the effectiveness of capture and translocation efforts and to reduce snake-human encounters. The Installation could also benefit financially since the ESTCP grant would cover all expenses associated with the soft release demonstration.

Outreach and awareness are essential components of Fort Buchanan’s boa conservation program, too. “By educating the public, we are eliminating a lot of misconceptions about snakes in general and especially the boa,” said Rodriguez-Cruz. The Installation is identifying snake habitat with signage, encouraging its residents to report boa sightings, and training contractors who work on the post on boa protection procedures – to name only a few of the efforts.

Committed to the protection of its largest indigenous snake, Fort Buchanan serves as an example of conservation to the Caribbean as well as to the entire Army Reserve and active Army, both of which play a critical role in the stewardship of our military’s lands and the world’s precious natural resources.  “What we do inside of the Installation for Puerto Rican boa conservation, if deemed efficient, can be useful to the management of the snake outside of the Installation,” Rodriguez-Cruz said.

The environmentally essential Puerto Rican boa has managed to survive despite the forces that jeopardize its very existence. With the Army Reserve in its corner, the snake now has the chance to thrive, and its story will be great for generations to come.

Photo by Eneilis Mulero Oliveras, Fort Buchanan Directorate of Public Works

ALIEN ATTACK: EMERALD ASH BORERS INVADE 88TH REGIONAL SUPPORT COMMAND

Emerald Ash Borer USDA James Zablotny

The U.S. Army Reserve is experiencing an invasion from a little, green alien species. No, they are not aliens from outer space and not escapees from Area 51. These aliens are terrorists that seek and destroy nature and, in this case, trees. Specifically, they target one entire genus or type of tree – the ash tree. Originally from Asia, they are Agrilus planipennis, commonly known as Emerald Ash Borers.

Why care? Emerald Ash Borers are small, metallic green beetles that kill every variety of ash tree by boring under the tree bark and disrupting the flow of water and nutrients. Most likely, they came to the United States from Asia on wooden crates from cargo ships or planes. The first United States identification of the Emerald Ash Borer was in southeastern Michigan in 2002. They have been advancing across the United States ever since, and their presence has been confirmed in 27 states: Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The insects are already responsible for the destruction of millions of ash trees in these states.

Fort Snelling Army Reserve Center in Minnesota recently experienced the wrath of the Emerald Ash Borers when they killed all 19 ash trees at the facility. Other 88th Regional Support Command facilities have experienced significant losses, too. At Joliet Training Area south of Chicago, Illinois, about 7,500 trees have been killed by Emerald Ash Borers.

The loss of so many trees could have both environmental and financial impacts. Ecological services such as erosion prevention, water filtration and temperature regulation could decline. Sources of food, fuel and a myriad of consumer goods could diminish, and habitat for wildlife could disappear. Furthermore, the real estate values of infested sites could drop while pest management costs could rise, since annual treatment costs for every affected tree can easily exceed $100 every year. So, the implications of the Emerald Ash Borer’s destructive presence are dire.

What can be done to stop these nuisances? Currently, there is no known practical remedy to halt their progress, and no North American ash species has proven to be immune. Biological treatments are now under investigation, and field trials have started.

PREVENTING THE SPREAD OF EMERALD ASH BORERS …

Use locally sourced firewood, and burn it in the same county in which it was purchased. Firewood is a significant transportation mechanism for the Emerald Ash Borer. Don’t move firewood. Beetle larvae can survive if they are hidden in the bark of firewood. Remember: buy local, burn local.

Inspect your trees. If you see any sign or symptom of an infestation, contact your State agriculture agency.

Chemically treat only high-value ash trees located within 15 miles of a known infestation. Declining trees should be considered for removal.

Know State and Federal regulations. Make sure that you understand regulations that govern your state and those you may visit.

Report suspected Emerald Ash Borer infestations to your state Department of Agriculture.

Talk to friends, neighbors and colleagues about the Emerald Ash Borer and educate them about what they should be aware of on their trees.

Ask questions. If you receive ash nursery stock or firewood, know its point of origin and your supplier, as Emerald Ash Borer larvae could be hiding under the bark.

Know the quarantines in your area.

FOR MORE INFORMATION …

Emerald Ash Borer Profile from U.S. Department of Agriculture

Emerald Ash Borer Information Network

Article by
Marshal Braman, Environmental Protection Specialist, 88th Regional Support Command

Photo by
James Zablotny, PhD/USDA

FIGHT THE BITE: FORT BUCHANAN WORKS TO COMBAT MOSQUITOES, ZIKA

Yellow Fever Mosquito

Do you know Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus? The Directorate of Public Works (DPW) at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico knows these fellows all too well. They are not colleagues or Soldiers or even characters in the community. They are mosquitoes, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they are responsible for the illnesses that are currently creating major public health concerns in the Caribbean Islands, Central America and South America.

With its bounty of natural beauty and its rich heritage, Puerto Rico is an idyllic paradise, but the concentrated population and lush environment on the island also create a “perfect storm” for the proliferation of the Yellow Fever mosquito and Asian Tiger mosquito, which are aggressive biters and the primary carriers of Dengue Fever,

Chikungunya virus and Zika virus. Per the 2015 Census, the island boasts over three million residents – one million of whom live in the San Juan area. In addition, Puerto Rico has a sub-tropical climate with an average temperature of 80 degrees and copious rainfall. According to Mr. Victor Rodriguez-Cruz, an Environmental Protection Specialist at Fort Buchanan, the Aedes mosquitoes have a preference for habitats around urban settings, which tend to have many standing pools of water for breeding. “[The climate] provides adequate conditions for mosquitoes to breed, and with our high population density, there is a potential risk of mosquitoes transmitting a variety of arthropod-borne viruses,” he said.

While all mosquito-borne illnesses are dangers to public health, Zika virus is a particularly dire issue. Dengue Fever and Chikungunya virus present symptoms that include fever, headache, muscle ache and joint pain. Although similar to those of Dengue Fever and Chikungunya virus, the symptoms of Zika virus are much milder in and sometimes completely absent from afflicted individuals. But, Zika virus can also cause neurological disorders such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome and a brain-damaging birth defect called microcephaly, which is a life-long and incurable condition that can often remain undetected until an infected child is born. Furthermore, Zika is blood borne and can be transmitted from human to human through sexual contact, blood transfusions and in-utero transmission.

The CDC estimates that the Zika virus now affects an estimated one million people in South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean islands, and the illness is spreading rapidly – even into the United States.

Fort Buchanan is leading the charge against mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases in Puerto Rico. “It is important for the Installation to protect the community by proactively controlling mosquito populations,” Rodriguez-Cruz remarked. “Our vector management program is directed towards maintaining mission readiness by protecting the well-being of our Soldiers, their Families and the Civilians who support them.”

In collaboration with Army Public Health Command through Rodriguez Army Health Clinic, Fort Buchanan’s Installation Integrated Pest Management Program has developed a tiered program to control the mosquito population and reduce the spread of Zika. They are using traps to capture and monitor mosquitoes on the Installation, and they are implementing mosquito breeding area surveillance to determine the origins of the populations and remove their habitats. When mosquito populations are discovered, larvae are removed, in some cases. In cases where source reduction is not feasible, though, ultra-low-volume pesticides are applied. Additionally, Fort Buchanan is partnering with Federal and state health departments to share their epidemiological and ecological information.

“This tiered approach permits us to attack the mosquito population throughout all stages of the insect’s life cycle: egg, larvae, pupae and adult,” said Rodriguez-Cruz. “This approach implements Integrated Pest Management practices that rely on the judicious use of both chemical and non-chemical treatments to prevent and control mosquitoes. This methodology minimizes potential environmental impacts and prevents pollution by reducing sole reliance on pesticides. Also, surveillance of mosquito populations helps determine the need for control and helps us to monitor the effectiveness of the program.”

PREVENTING MOSQUITO-BORNE ILLNESSES

Remove any containers with standing water from your Army Reserve facility or personal property. Standing water is the primary breeding habitat for mosquitoes.

Clean and refresh pet water dishes, watering troughs and birdbaths at least once each week.

Cover outdoor pools and spas when they are not used, and ensure that they are properly chlorinated.

Clear rain gutters and roofs of debris and standing water.

Install mosquito-repellant plants such as citronella, mint, marigold and catnip in your garden.

Stay inside when mosquitoes are active.

Close doors and windows. Use air conditioning to cool your facility.

When you are outside, use oscillating fans to deter mosquitoes.

Use a mosquito repellant that has been registered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Ingredients such as DEET and picaridin are considered to be safe and effective when used as directed.

Wear long sleeves and pants when feasible.

Monitor your health. If you notice any symptoms of Dengue Fever, Chikungunya virus or Zika virus, seek medical assistance.

ARMY RESERVE HIGHLIGHTS WILDLIFE FOR WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY

This year, the United Nations’ World Environment Day raised awareness about global wildlife concerns such as the illegal wildlife trade, and Army Reserve Sustainability Programs (ARSP) celebrated the observance by highlighting some of the unique flora and fauna managed by U.S. Army Reserve Installations, Regional Support Commands and Mission Support Command.

The future of the Earth’s wildlife is important to the Army Reserve. Because the Army Reserve has a global “bootprint,” numerous threats to natural resources and conflicts that arise as a result of those threats have the potential to impact mission objectives across the world. Wildlife issues also hit closer to home, since the Army Reserve’s land-holding commands are obliged by law to properly manage natural resources. If the Army Reserve does not comply with regulations regarding wildlife stewardship, the Federal government could then impose restrictions on operations – restrictions that could severely impede readiness. By protecting wildlife throughout the enterprise, the Army Reserve can protect the availability of the critical lands that provide habitat for our species and training for our Soldiers.

To educate Soldiers and Civilians about wildlife and its interactions with the military, ARSP hosted an information station at Army Reserve Command headquarters at Fort Bragg on June 8. Participants learned about threatened and endangered species at Army Reserve sites, and they calculated their ecological footprints.

In conjunction, ARSP launched its first-ever “Go Wild” digital photography contest, which garnered 114 entries. And, they collected almost 50 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to feed the animals at Aloha Zoo, a wildlife rescue center in Cameron, North Carolina.

Even though World Environment Day happens only once each year, Soldiers and Civilians in the Army Reserve community can do their parts to protect wildlife every day.

What can you do to protect wildlife in your community?

Be considerate and respectful of wildlife and their habitats.

Comply with all Federal, state, local and Installation regulations regarding interactions  with wildlife – especially if you hunt or fish.

Carefully consider sales or purchases of animals and plants or goods derived from animals and plants to ensure that they are sustainably and legally traded.

Report evidence of wildlife poaching or harassment to your state bureau of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Visit fws.gov for more information.

Pledge to purchase products and services only from companies that support the humane treatment of animals.

Support or volunteer at a local agency that promotes animal and plant conservation such as an animal shelter or wildlife refuge.

Prevent pollution. Air, water and soil pollution can harm wildlife and their environments. Reduce your use of chemicals and discard your household wastes properly.

Conserve natural resources by saving energy and water, recycling and reducing waste.

XERISCAPING PROJECTS SAVE WATER DESPITE DROUGHT AT 63RD REGIONAL SUPPORT COMMAND

Drought Tolerant Plants
In the 1746 edition of “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” American statesman Benjamin Franklin wrote, “When the well is dry, we will know the worth of water.” The U.S. Army Reserve knows the worth of water. In fact, the success of every mission depends on it. At some sites, though, drought is turning water into a limited resource and conservation into a necessity.

The 63rd Regional Support Command (RSC) has found a practical way to combat the drought and reduce water consumption with some unique landscaping projects.

“Water conservation projects were, and are, necessary due to the water use observed at many sites,” said Varun Sood, a resource efficiency manager for the 63rd RSC. Many facilities in the Command– which includes the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas – are located in arid geographic areas that continuously experience drought and water scarcity, resulting in high water bills and a lack of water security that threatens to disrupt readiness.

“We want to reduce our total water consumption,” said Sood. To that end, the 63rd RSC added xeriscaping to conservation efforts.

Xeriscaping is the practice of landscaping and gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental irrigation. Originally developed for drought-afflicted areas, the principles of xeriscaping have a broadening appeal as a result of their many benefits.

Typically, xeriscapes have features that are less water intensive such as stone ground covers and native plants, which are plants that have naturally occurred in a particular habitat over time, with no human intervention. Native plants are well adapted to an area’s unique climate and environmental characteristics such as its water availability, soil composition and indigenous insects. Xeriscapes therefore require less water, fewer fertilizers and fewer pesticides. As a result, these designs have the long-term potential to conserve water, prevent chemical pollution and save money. Hays Kinslow, an energy manager with the 63rd RSC, said that xeriscapes also improve the aesthetics of their sites and reduce the need for water infrastructure and grounds maintenance.

Over the past two years, xeriscapes have been completed in California at Los Alamitos Reserve Center in Los Alamitos, Holderman Hall Reserve Center in Los Angeles and Bell Reserve Center in Bell Gardens. “They are large facilities where we could make a big impact due to the amount of water used there for irrigation,” Sood explained. Currently, another xeriscape is planned for Leymel Hall Reserve Center in Fresno, and the 63rd RSC is exploring ways to incorporate xeriscaping in future projects.

According to Sood, all of the 63rd RSC’s projects include plants native to California, stone ground covers, drip irrigation systems and other features of a traditional xeric garden.

When xeriscapes have been combined with additional water conservation methods, such as plumbing improvements, the results have been quite impressive. The 63rd RSC has reduced its water use by nearly 38 percent from fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2015. “Xeriscape projects have reduced the need for irrigation and have definitely contributed to a reduction in water use at our sites,” said Sood.

With their innovative ideas for landscapes that work with the environmental conditions at their sites, the 63rd RSC is contributing to a culture of conservation across the Army Reserve, and they are making every drop count.

READ MORE ABOUT XERISCAPING

Seven Principles of Xeriscaping

Xeriscape from Sustainable Sources

Xeriscape Ideas from The Landscaping Network

Find Native Plants

ARMY RESERVE WORKS WITH FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE TO CONSERVE NORTHERN LONG-EARED BAT

NLEB

Article by Jonelle Kimbrough, Communications Coordinator, Army Reserve Sustainability Programs
and Veronda Johnson, Environmental Protection Specialist, Army Reserve Command

Bats are critical to our nation’s ecology and economy. They consume tons of insects every night and pollinate numerous food plants, thus providing a natural benefit to farmers, foresters and consumers. In fact, some research indicates that bats provide at least $3 billion in economic value annually. However, a deadly disease is decimating populations of the northern long-eared Bat (NLEB) in the United States and prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to protect these important creatures. As a federal entity, the Army Reserve is also tasked with their conservation – a responsibility that the 88th Regional Support Command is heeding to protect military operations as well as our flying friends.

The NLEB is found in several Army Reserve regions, primarily in the 88th and 99th RSCs and in a more limited range in the 81st and 63rd RSCs. It is also one of the seven bat species impacted by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has caused the deaths of millions of bats in the northeast. Some affected bat populations have experienced a 99 percent mortality rate.

Due to significant population declines caused by the spread of white-nose syndrome throughout the United States and Canada, the USFWS announced that it is protecting the NLEB as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973.

The presence of threatened and endangered species on military installations can have potentially major impacts on the environment and the mission. Species losses can cause devastating ecological imbalances, and “significant use restrictions could be applied by the USFWS and enforced under the ESA if the 88th RSC is not compliant with federal laws” surrounding these species, explained Marshal Braman, an environmental protection specialist and Versar contractor with the 88th RSC.

In an effort to prevent those restrictions, the 88th RSC completed an informal Section 7 consultation for Indiana bats with the USFWS, which resulted in the 2013 preparation and approval of an Endangered Species Management Component (ESMC). In the ESMC, which was revised last year to include the NLEB, the Army Reserve determined and the USFWS concurred that military operations “may affect but are not likely to adversely affect” bat populations. Military training, aircraft operations and recreation are covered for all locations. Other activities including the use of smoke or obscurants, forest management, prescribed burning, pest management and construction also continue but with the implementation of conservation measures that will prevent “take” of the NLEB, which is defined by the ESA as “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect any endangered species.”

Fortunately, white-nose syndrome has not yet been detected throughout the entire range of the NLEB. And, bats and Soldiers have been living in harmony thus far. “Most training activities are on different time schedules from the bats, so there is minimal potential interaction,” Braman commented. Bats are most active at dawn and dusk and during the night, but nearly all training normally occurs during the day.

In the event that a NLEB roost tree is encountered on the training area, Soldiers are to identify its location, immediately cease all activities within a 150 foot radius of the tree and report their observations to natural resources personnel, who will then provide direction regarding continued activities, use of the immediate area and subsequent actions.

“The 88th RSC will follow the established measures outlined in the ESMC to avoid potential impacts to the bats and maintain suitable habitat for their continued use,” Braman said.

The Army is considered a leader in the efforts to protect our natural world and the rare plants, insects and animals with whom we share our military installations.

The programmatic approach between the USFWS and the 88th RSC to protect a once common bat can serve as a model for future actions, and it will ensure the protection of wide-range species and the conservation of the lands and resources that directly support the men and women who defend our freedom.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE NORTHERN LONG-EARED BAT

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