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Volunteer helps provide support network

Directorate of Public Works, Environmental

Published: 11:20AM November 29th, 2012
Volunteers aid in restoration of JBLM prairies

Miriam Easley

From left: Sgt. 1st Class Everet Sterling, Mason McKinley from CNLM, Master Sgt. Kelly Nichols, and Tech. Sgt. Christopher Evans volunteer their time to assist JBLM Fish and Wildlife with prairie restoration.

Facing poor weather conditions, volunteers came out to the JBLM prairies to volunteer their time for habitat restoration work.

One Soldier, two Airmen, three staff from JBLM’s habitat restoration partners, Center for Natural Land Management, and three JBLM Fish and Wildlife staff braved the wind and rain on Nov. 20 to plant more than 3,200 native prairie plugs.

This is the fifth year that JBLM has held concurrent events during National Public Lands Day, a national volunteer event. Past projects have included building bee boxes, bird houses, and work at the JBLM community garden. “It’s a great way to get JBLM community members to experience the training areas in a way they may not have previously,” said Jim Lynch, JBLM Fish and Wildlife biologist. “Many people see JBLM as a place to work and live but they don’t realize the diverse ecosystem that surrounds them — these volunteer events give them that chance.”

In addition to planting native prairie plugs, small plant starts that are crucial to the prairie ecosystem, volunteers also cleared prairie areas where Douglas firs were encroaching. The work was hard and the weather was wet, but the volunteers were happy to be there.

“It’s better than being in the office,” Master Sgt. Kelly Nichols said.

Sergeant First Class Everet Sterling explained his reasons for wanting to come out and volunteer with the JBLM Fish and Wildlife team, “I went to an agricultural course and this was an opportunity to tie things together and do field work. And it’s good to do stuff that gives back to the community, to give back to nature,” Sterling said.

Technical Sergeant Christopher Evans left that day having learned something, “Before, I didn’t know what we were planting out here and what the purpose was — promoting butterflies and natural habitat.”

JBLM prairies are home to three species of animals which are candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly and the streaked horned lark were proposed in October 2012 and the Mazama pocket gopher is projected to be proposed within the next month. The deadline for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to render the final decision of federally listing a species under the ESA is Sept. 30, 2013.

For DOD, once a species is proposed they are treated as if they are already listed. This is so best management practices can be established and followed by everyone who uses the prairies, either for training or recreation, and becomes the new routine before the species is actually federally listed under the Endangered Species Act.

New routines are needed because once listed, infringements in critical habitats or harm to the species can result in some pretty hefty consequences — potential fines and even prison time. JBLM Fish and Wildlife work closely with Range Control, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and service members to reduce impacts.

The work done Nov. 20 by JBLM Fish and Wildlife and volunteers helped to mitigate some of the potential training restrictions caused by these proposed listings. By preserving and restoring specially designated, high-quality prairie habitat, it leaves traditional training areas open for service members to carry out their training mission.

“Volunteers are very important to the work that we do. There’s a lot of habitat that needs restoring and preserving — volunteers allow us to get to more of these critical sites,” Lynch said.

The JBLM Fish and Wildlife team can often use volunteers for a variety of projects. To volunteer, contact lewisdpwedpr@conus.army.mil.