JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – There are several species of animals including the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, Mazama pocket gopher and the streaked horned lark that could soon be put on the endangered species list. What they all have in common is that they call Joint Base Lewis-McChord home.
With proper resource management, habitat protection and restoration, being put on the list doesn’t have to be the case. Through the efforts of several programs, JBLM manages its natural resources and protects training grounds for current and future use.
A Soldier’s ability to fight effectively is often determined by the level and ability of a Soldier to train and could be affected by land management. That is why land management works to find a balance between training and conservation.
“We try to set up a win-win scenario where the Soldier can use the land, meet their training objective and missions but not adversely impact the species,” said Paul Steucke, chief of the environmental division at public works on JBLM.
A variety of species live on JBLM’s approximately 80,000 acres of undeveloped training land and some are endangered Steucke said.
“One of the reasons these species exist on the military installation is because the other places these species used to exist on are now shopping malls and back yards,” Steucke said.
Steucke said that by maintaining these lands for training and not development helps protect the species and their habitat. For this reason, local habitat management teams work in close harmony with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that animals and Soldiers can coexist.
“It’s part of the natural lifecycle for species to go extinct,” Steucke said. “The Endangered Species Act was passed because the rate of extinction of species today hasn’t been seen since the time of the dinosaurs. It’s at 1,000 times the normal rate.”
With this in mind the teams do everything possible to protect the habitat while allowing for training.
According to David Clouse, fish and wildlife program manager on JBLM, there have been various projects to help wildlife conservation on JBLM. An example of which was to install bridges for military vehicles to cross streams in training areas. This allowed for vehicles to maneuver through the areas without damaging the streams and leaving large ruts, at the same time protecting the spawning grounds of salmon.
One instance Steucke recalled is a habitat area for a specific bird. There are about 12 birds in one given training area. Each bird requires about two acres of space. Instead of making the 1,000 acre training area off limits, the team simply advised the trainers of where the bird’s habitat is. Allowing the unit to avoid that area and protect wildlife habitat while accomplishing the training objective.
The average Soldier might ask, “Why is this important to me, why should I care and how does this effect my job?”
There are three very distinct ways this could affect service members.
“By law, as a federal entity, (JBLM) is required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service on any species that is listed in a critical habitat,” Clouse said.
He added that if a Soldier “knowingly and willingly” harms an animal, especially an endangered one that they have been briefed on, then they could face possible fines and prison time.
Not only are there legal reasons for protecting wildlife but personal ones as well.
“Everyone that lives in the U.S. are caretakers of properties of the U.S. and we are caretakers with a moral obligation,” said Steucke.
Steucke explained that the interaction of various species with each other isn’t fully understood and that the loss of one could cause impacts on others.
Once a species is on the endangered species list its habitat can be classified as critical habitat. At which point the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will apply certain restrictions to the use of the land that could include making it off limits to training for the military.
Clouse said that not only are wildlife management teams taking care of the habitat for species currently endangered but they also manage habitat so that other species won’t be placed on the list. Hopefully avoiding any further and possible severe restrictions on land use.
The wildlife management teams continue to work with unit commanders and range control to ensure the viability of JBLM’s training land and natural resources.
“If you follow the fairly reasonable guidelines that we’ve been given to work with, and stay within those guidelines, we will continue to have minimal restriction,” said Steucke. “If you don’t we will lose control and these areas will be off limits.”