ARMY RESERVE ENVIRONMENTAL STRATEGY SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED

Story by Jonelle Kimbrough, Strategic Communicator
Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate

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

Story by Jonelle Kimbrough, Strategic Communicator
Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate

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.

puerto-rican-boa_oliveras

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