Flowers, birds or shrimp: air station offers safe haven

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar / 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story by Lance Cpl. Christopher Johns

Date: 01.29.2014
Posted: 01.31.2014 17:03
News ID: 119968
Flowers, birds or shrimp: air station offers safe haven

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. – Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., provides a home for not only service members and families, but to several endangered species.

Senior leadership with MCAS Miramar set aside portions of land for endangered birds, plants and fairy shrimp to grow and hopefully flourish.

“It’s our responsibility to manage these things,” said Col. John Farnam, MCAS Miramar commanding officer. “We manage our environment, that’s what we do [as Marines]. We defend the nation in many ways, and this is just one small facet of that defense.”

Those working in the installation’s environmental office agree.

“[Miramar] has been actively involved in protecting these species – land and animal alike,” said Lt. Col. James Szepesy, environmental director with MCAS Miramar. “Part of our mission as an air station is to be good stewards of national and natural resources that we have and doing that in a way that allows us to continue with normal operations.”

The air station houses 80 percent of the willowy monardella, an endangered plant species, in the entire world right here on its property seemingly unaffected by both aircraft activity and daily training by its Marine neighbors.

“I have some very intelligent, passionate and dedicated professionals working for me who know their craft,” said Szepesy. “They go out, survey and evaluate the land then relay that information to me. I translate all of that information to the commanding officer and staff sections who make informed decisions on future acquisitions, programs or projects that may affect those areas and further protection and cultivation of these species.”

These professionals are biologists, botanists and engineers who work to protect the wildlife and plants, and oversee environmental projects aboard the air station.

“People seem surprised that the Marine Corps has a botanist, wildlife biologist or anyone in natural resources [working for them],” said JoEllen Kassebaum, a botanist for the installation.

Once the initial surprise wears off, they begin to ask questions about what I do, then more specific questions and finally they wonder, especially after they see smoke from Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting performing training, what kind of habitats the Marines are burning down so they can train or develop their land, explained Kassebaum.

The installation doesn’t burn any habitats though. Any brush fires aboard the installation are done to prevent fueling wildfires, and according to Kassebaum, one endangered plant species, the delmar manzanita, benefits from the open space created by the fire.

Kassebaum helped see to the approval and development of a garden located around the installation’s environmental office where she tends plants in differing micro climates. This allows her to see how plants interact with each other in certain settings while giving Marines, families and guests a chance to see and learn about these Californian plants.

Marines aboard the air station take time to post signs denoting areas where vernal pools and endangered plants are located. These pools play home to two endangered species of fairy shrimp, and although there is no water, the tiny creatures still lay dormant in these cracked plots of earth.

Wildlife biologists seek out vernal pools while surveying and also keep a watchful eye out for two endangered bird species, the Coastal California Gnatcatcher and the Least Bell’s Vireo, who call the air station home.

“We have about 50 pairs of Gnatcatchers and 15 to 20 pairs of Bell’s Vireos that breed aboard the air station that we survey for,” said Charles Black, a wildlife biologist with the installation. “We have one bird that was banded in Fallbrook, Calif., about six years ago that has returned to Miramar three years in a row to breed. So it has essentially made the air station its home.”

Endangered wildlife is receiving the attention it should be from those aboard the air station. Marines are taught to stay on paved paths when going into less developed areas of the installation. They’re also offered further instruction by botanists and biologists to see what they can do as an individual.

Anyone who disregards these signs or harms any wildlife could receive hefty fines, non-judicial punishment or anything deemed necessary by commands.

Marines and families are encouraged by environmental workers to seek further information to do their part in keeping endangered plants and wildlife here for future generations to admire.

For more information contact the installation’s environmental office at 858-577-6498.