Natural Resources Management and Conservation on Military Lands



Organizers: Rick Spaulding, ManTech International Corp.; Rhys Evans, USAF

Supported by:
TWS Military Lands and Drone Working Groups

The Department of Defense’s (DoD) Natural Resources Program supports the military’s testing and training mission by protecting its biological resources. The Natural Resources Program provides policy, guidance, and oversight for management of natural resources on approximately 25 million acres of military land, air, and water resources owned or operated by the DoD. The Program’s goal is to support the military’s combat readiness mission by ensuring continued access to realistic habitat conditions, while simultaneously working to ensure the long-term sustainability of the United State’s natural heritage. This symposium provides highlights of the natural resources work that is being conducted on military lands. Presentations will cover a wide variety of ecosystems in numerous states (e.g., Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon, and Utah), military installations and services (e.g., USAF, USMC, Army), and federally listed and non-listed bird, amphibian, and mammal species. The symposium will provide a forum for discussion among wildlife professionals that may result in future research collaborations between DoD natural resource managers and wildlife biologists at universities, federal and state government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and consulting firms.


What Happens on the Other Side of That Security Checkpoint? An Overview of Natural Resources Management in the Department of Defense
Rhys Evans, Sherri Sullivan
The United States Department of Defense (DoD) manages more than 27 million acres of land in all 50 states and many territories. Some installations are fully developed and dominated by pavement, others have thousands of acres of natural landscapes, teeming with wildlife.  More than 400 federally threatened and endangered species are currently found on DoD land managed by thousands of professional natural resources management personnel; however these lands are also crucial to our national defense.  This presentation is intended to serve as an introduction to the comprehensive Natural Resources Management and Conservation on Military Lands symposium.  We will provide a baseline of applicable laws and policy, using examples from a variety of installations and services.  We will share common and uncommon challenges.  We will also introduce several of the national and international partnerships the DoD relies upon to manage natural resources and accomplish the military mission on DoD land.  What happens on the other side of that security checkpoint?
Migratory Bird Monitoring at U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground: IMBCR Applications on a Military Installation
Keeli Marvel, Robbie Knight, Jennifer Timmer, Matthew McLaren
Migratory Bird Monitoring at U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground: IMBCR Applications on a Military Installation The Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions (IMBCR) program was started in Colorado in 2008 and has grown to become the second largest breeding bird monitoring program in the United States. IMBCR surveys are used to gather data on breeding bird populations and habitat and provide density and occupancy estimates for landbird species. IMBCR maximizes partnerships across state, federal, and nonprofit organizations to sample in a spatially balanced, probabilistic framework that allows for inference on multiple scales. In 2015 Utah joined the IMBCR partnership and U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground (DPG) became a partner in the effort. Survey strata on DPG were selected to sample areas where various types of military activities are conducted with the goals of establishing baseline population density and occupancy estimates and providing trend data for key species. These data are vital for informing National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) actions in support of the military mission.  Primary Contact: Keeli Marvel, (801-602-9566)
Use of Data Mule UAS to Remotely Download Camera Trap Data on Military Lands
Dave Delaney, Jean Pan, Zane Mountcastle, Martin Slosarik, Aaron Alvidrez, Martin Ruane
Ground sensors are often placed in remote areas to collect important natural resource data which informs management decisions on military installations and other land management agencies. Data are often collected manually (i.e. by vehicle, by foot) which is time consuming, costly, and can risk personnel safety in rugged terrain. Moreover, access to field equipment can be restricted due to military training, inhospitable weather, or to reduce disturbance during sensitive periods (i.e. breeding season). This can delay data acquisition and lead to missed opportunities to make informed management decisions. There is a need for technology that can improve access to ground-based sensor data. We demonstrated the use of a Data Mule UAS to remotely collect camera trap data at artificial water provisioning sites on Air Force land in 2019 and to monitor sensitive bird species on Navy land in 2020. The Data Mule UAS autonomously flew to and circled over each ground station (includes communication hub, camera trap, and a solar panel) and wirelessly uploaded data from the ground station to the UAS payload. The UAS then returned home loaded with sensor data, which was offloaded by the flight crew upon landing. We successfully conducted flights, some of which were upwards of 12 km, to multiple field sites and conducted missions where multiple ground sensors were visited and data downloaded in a single flight. The results of this project are widely applicable across all military facilities, federal, state, or any lands of interest where there is a need for alternative cost-effective methods for collecting data from camera traps and other remote ground-based sensors.
Picogrid: Satellite-Connected Remote Monitoring
Dave Delaney, Jean Pan, Zane Mountcastle, Martin Slosarik, Aaron Alvidrez
Important resources often exist “off the grid”, well beyond available power sources or connectivity infrastructure, which makes continuous, long-term monitoring of these resources exceptionally challenging. The cost of extending power and connectivity to these remote sites, often located in rugged terrain and in harsh environmental conditions, is cost prohibitive; the Department of Energy estimated costs to be $15,000 to $50,000 per mile. Consequently, many current monitoring methods rely on manual observation and data collection from ground-based sensors, like camera traps, which cannot provide real-time data, leading to gaps in the collected information and data loss due to breakdowns. Picogrid Lander is a solar powered and satellite connected device that requires no existing power or connectivity infrastructure. Lander is designed to interface with a wide array of existing sensors and field equipment to extend data collection capabilities further into remote areas. Lander was initially tested for detecting wildfire threats in Mendocino County, California. During the testing period of 90 days, the technology endured various environmental conditions (e.g., wind, heavy rain) and maintained 24/7 video feed availability with no outages. The Picogrid Landers will next be deployed on the Barry M. Goldwater Range East (BMGR-E) near Gila Bend, Arizona, as part of a demonstration and validation project. The objectives of the project are to effectively integrate the Picogrid technology with various onsite ground-based sensors, test the ability of this satellite system to function effectively under harsh field conditions in remote landscapes, and to successfully demonstrate the efficiency of the system at transferring high bandwidth data for easy accessibility by installation natural resources managers. The technology can be widely applied to natural resources monitoring (e.g., at-risk species, threatened and endangered species) at military installations across branches of the DoD, as well remote sensing tasks (e.g., wildfire monitoring, physical security of military facilities).
Leveraging Partnerships to Improve Fish Habitat Restoration Outcomes: An Air Force Case Study in California
Kirsten Christopherson, Tamara Gallentine
This presentation will highlight a collaborative five-year effort between the U. S. Air Force, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which resulted in the removal an 80 year-old concrete dam at Beale Air Force Base, in Yuba County, California, supporting recovery of the federally threatened Central Valley steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and the fall-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), a federal and state species of concern. The joint effort also includes future impediment removal and spawning habitat improvements both upstream and downstream of the Base. When all work is complete, the partnership will have restored 13 miles of historic salmonid spawning habitat. Project progression from initial planning to final streambank restoration will be presented.
Response of Nesting Western Snowy Plovers to Coastal Dune Contouring at Vandenberg SFB
Jamie Miller, Angela Fortuna, Lynne Hargett, Julie Howar, Emily Rice, Dan Robinette
Invasive plants negatively impact coastal dune ecosystems worldwide, stabilizing dune habitat and reducing the dynamics associated with an early successional state. Several techniques have been developed to remove invasive plants from dune habitats, including manual removal, spraying herbicide, and burning. However, if dunes have been stabilized over long periods, mechanical contouring (e.g., with heavy machinery like bulldozers) may be required to remove dead vegetation and extensive root systems. Here, we assess the effectiveness of a coastal dune contouring project at Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) in central California by monitoring the nesting response of western snowy plovers (Charadrius nivosus nivosus), a threatened coastally breeding shorebird that relies heavily on early successional dune habitat. Two sections of beach were mechanically contoured in 2014 and 2015, opening up 30.5 ha of previously marginal habitat for nesting snowy plovers. We investigated changes in beach structure, plover nest distribution, plover nest density, hatch success, and fledge success from 2014 to 2020 at the two contoured sites as well as two sites adjacent to the contoured sites and a control site 500 m away from the contoured sites. In a previous study, we found that nesting plovers prefer vegetation cover in the 5-15% range. After contouring, the majority of nesting habitat at both contoured sites had 5-15% vegetation cover. However, the amount of preferred habitat decreased in subsequent years as vegetation cover increased. Nest density and distribution showed similar results with both increasing within the two contoured sites immediately after contouring and decreasing in subsequent years as vegetation grew back. Our results demonstrate that without periodic recontouring, contoured sites will continue to fill in with vegetation and nest distributions will return to where they were before contouring was conducted.
Measuring Food Web and Beach Habitat Characteristics in Relation to Snowy Plover Breeding Dynamics at Vandenberg SFB
Emily Rice, Angela Fortuna, Lynne Hargett, Julie Howar, Jamie Miller, Dan Robinette
The western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus) is a small, precocial shorebird that breeds on coastal beaches from southern Washington to southern Baja California, Mexico. The Pacific coast population has declined primarily due to the loss of nesting habitat and has been federally listed as threatened. Beach habitat quality and prey availability are both important determinants of snowy plover nesting and fledging success. However, while snowy plovers are intensively monitored at sites throughout their breeding range, little to no effort is devoted to understanding how changes in beach habitat characteristics and annual prey availability impacts plover nesting and fledging success. This is likely because measuring these metrics is time consuming and adds to the disturbance caused by monitoring in general. In response to this need, we are developing protocols to measure important beach habitat metrics and rapidly index annual algal wrack abundance in snowy plover nesting habitat. Algal wrack is the primary food source for talitrid amphipods, an important prey for snowy plovers.  We have used our index to measure wrack abundance on the beaches of Vandenberg Space Force Base (SFB), California since 2012. Our results show steady decreases in both algal wrack abundance and snowy plover fledging success over the past eight years. During this same period, spring sea surface temperature, an important determinant of kelp growth, has increased steadily. Thus, our results suggest that increases in local sea surface temperature can lead to decreased wrack deposition which, in turn, can lead to decreased prey availability and overall fledging success. Our results demonstrate how monitoring changes in local oceanographic conditions and annual wrack deposition on beaches can help explain annual variability in fledging success beyond the impacts of predation that are traditionally measured as part of snowy plover monitoring programs.
Assessing the Impacts of Predation and Prey Availability on Nesting California Least Terns at Vandenberg SFB
Dan Robinette, Angela Fortuna, Lynne Hargett, Julie Howar, Jamie Miller, Emily Rice
The California least tern (Sternula antillarum browni) is a small, colonial seabird that has been listed as endangered due to loss of breeding habitat throughout its breeding range. Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) manages a small least tern breeding colony at Purisima Point, California. An important goal of VSFB’s least tern management program is to promote the growth of the least tern population while maintaining the health of the surrounding ecosystem. While predator management is a necessary component of this program, significant effort is made to minimize negative impacts to native predator populations. Here, we investigate the extent to which top-down (i.e., predation) and bottom-up (i.e., prey availability) factors determine annual least tern reproductive success in order to better inform and guide predator management on VSFB. We used 20 years (2001-2020) of data on annual reproductive success, adult colony attendance, diet composition, and predation rates to investigate the impacts of bottom-up and top-down factors on annual reproductive success. We found that annual variability in diet composition was the primary driver of annual variability in reproductive success while annual predation rates had an overall low impact. Least tern reproductive success was highest when northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax) and/or rockfish (Sebastes sp.) dominated the diet and lowest when species richness in the diet was high. High species richness occurred when ocean conditions were less productive and indicated that the terns were having to spend more time foraging to find alternative prey. Furthermore, annual diet composition was an important determinant of adult colony attendance. Adult least terns can effectively mob and chase away predators when large numbers are attending the colony. Our results suggest that the benefits of predator management are overshadowed by local prey availability and that expectations for annual reproductive success should be established within the context of local oceanographic conditions.
Using Spatially Explicit Population Models to Predict Conservation Reliant Species in Non-Analogue Future Environments on DOD Lands
Brian Hudgens, Jessica Abbott, Allison Louthan, Bill Morris, Nick Haddad, Elsita Kiekebusch, Jeff Walters, Lynne Stenzel
The Department of Defense is responsible for managing threatened, endangered, and rare species inhabiting its properties. Predicting which species will need ongoing management due to changing climate conditions is valuable for planning and prioritizing natural resource management needs. Making such predictions poses a significant challenge to DoD natural resource managers because climate influences demographic rates in numerous and complex ways. In many cases, demographic rates are affected by multiple climate variables, and it is not uncommon for the same climate variable to have opposing effects on different demographic rates. We developed Spatially Explicit Environmental Driver (SEED) models linked to downscaled global climate change models to predict how a species will respond to non-analogue climate conditions. This presentation will demonstrate the application of SEED models to plants, insects, amphibians and birds to assist in species-level and base-level management planning, and to elucidate general patterns of which species are more, or less, likely to face increasing management needs due to changing climate conditions.
Geography Better Predicts Red-Legged Frog Response to Climate Change Than Taxonomy
Jessica Abbott, Brian Hudgens, Lindsey Gordon, Melissa Harbert, Kelcy McHarry, Neha Savant
Rare, threatened, endangered and declining amphibian populations are a management concern for natural resource managers on numerous Department of Defense properties. Effectively managing amphibians on DoD lands will require accounting for the impacts of potential changes in climate on local amphibian populations. We studied climate-demographic rate relationships in California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii), northern red-legged frog (R. aurora), and hybrid populations to predict how these populations will responds to projected changes in climate conditions at coastal sites (including Vandenberg Air Force Base) and at inland sites (including Army Corps of Engineering Sites in the Willamette Valley of Oregon). We found that climate variables had similar influence on demographic rates of both species (and in hybrid populations) of red-legged frogs, justifying the use of northern red-legged frogs as a surrogate species for the threatened California red-legged frog. We also found similar predicted responses to projected climate change by geographically similar populations of both species, but significant differences between coastal and inland populations. Inland populations are predicted to benefit from increased adult survival associated with projected warming winter temperatures, while coastal populations are predicted to do slightly worse as warmer spring and summer temperatures negatively impact tadpole survival. On the whole, future climate change is not expected to increase conservation needs for red-legged frogs, and conservation efforts should focus on non-climate population drivers.
Is Mitigation Translocation an Effective Method for Reducing Laysan Albatross Military Aircraft Collisions?
Brian Washburn, Katherine Rubiano, William Bukowski, Darrin Phelps
Wildlife-aircraft collisions (wildlife strikes) pose a serious risk to civil and military aircraft.  Each year, Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) attempt to establish a breeding colony on the airfield at the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) located on the island of Kaua’i, resulting in a hazard to safe aircraft operations at this facility.  A long-term management program, with an emphasis on mitigation translocation (e.g., live-capture and translocation away from the area) of problematic individuals, has been conducted by USDA Wildlife Services.  However, the efficacy of mitigation translocation as a non-lethal management tool is unknown, especially in island ecosystems.  During 2018–2020, we conducted an experimental program to determine return rates of albatrosses translocated from PMRF.  Radio-tagged Laysan Albatross were translocated to release locations either 2 km or 45 km from the PMRF airfield during two time periods (early and late) within the Laysan Albatross breeding season (November to April).  We monitored for the return of radio-tagged birds to PMRF using automated tracking units placed around the PMRF airfield, hand tracking, and examining all Laysan Albatross that were live-captured on the airfield during the breeding season.  Preliminary findings of our study suggest mitigation translocation has value as a management method to reduce the risk of albatross-aircraft collisions at PMRF.
Greater Prairie-Chicken Habitat Selection Within a Mosaic Burning Regime on Fort Riley Military Reservation, Kansas
Jacquelyn Gehrt, Derek Moon, David Haukos
Greater Prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus cupido) face large-scale disturbances in the form of habitat loss and conversion of the prairies in which they reside. Even large tracts of remaining grasslands, such as the Flint Hills ecoregion, are not free from disturbances caused by contemporary land management practices such as ranching. Some ranching practices implement annual burning or intensive grazing regimes that may decrease habitat availability for Greater Prairie-chickens. Fort Riley Military Reservation in Riley and Geary counties, KS may prove to be a refuge for Greater Prairie-chickens as grazing is not allowed and burn regimes are characterized as a mosaic style, leaving a heterogeneous matrix of vegetation on the landscape. This heterogeneous landscape prompted us to assess relative use of available habitat types by Greater Prairie-chickens on the reservation. We tracked the movements and space use of 38 females from April-August 2019 and 2020. Females predominately selected for frequently burned areas (every 1 to 2 years). We also found used and nest locations to be in similar areas on the landscape in 2019 and 2020 despite annual shifts in burn frequencies in those areas. This shift in burn frequencies led to a significant difference in nest success between frequently and moderately (every 2 to 4 years) burned areas (9% and 21% respectively). Information on the influence of the mosaic burning regime on habitat selection by Greater-Prairie chickens will aid in the development of specific management recommendations for the conservation of Greater Prairie-chickens on Fort Riley Military Reservation.
Redefining Natural Resource Management and the Practicalities of Using Unoccupied Aerial Systems on (And Off) DOD Lands
Susan Cohen, Anthony Rodriguez, Troy Walton, Justin Ridge
The benefits of integrating unoccupied aircraft systems (UASs) into Department of Defense natural resource management are numerous and transformative, often improving the quality of data collected, collecting data more efficiently and with less risk, and providing new opportunities to collect data in challenging environments. While the advantages are clear, the pathway towards realizing those benefits from UASs is obstructed by real and perceived security and capability concerns. Adoption and acceptance by leadership is a complex problem. An operational framework and structure for the U.S. Marine Corps Installations EAST (MCIEAST) was established to integrate UAS technology into present and future civilian-led management of natural resources. This effort required 1) scientific expertise in DoD-relevant natural resources; 2) UAS-technical knowledge to capture data and transform it into information; and 3) development of MCIEAST regional standards and protocols within the context of larger DoD regulations. The additional complication of dynamically evolving cybersecurity rules complicated MCIEAST adoption. However, the wide array of environmental management questions and challenges that are addressed by the benefits of incorporating UAS into workflows has been a compelling driver for UAS acceptance. The position of these critical southeastern Marine Corps installations along vulnerable coastal shorelines means storms, shoreline erosion, and broad wetland dynamics are of considerable concern for both sustaining ecosystem benefits (e.g. habitat, water quality) and for supporting training and readiness. UAS surveys can measure and monitor shorelines, marsh die-off and recovery, as well as flooding, erosion, and storm impacts. Additional uses on prescribed and wild-fires, Bird Animal Strike Hazard detection, forest management, and species surveys demonstrate both real-time situation awareness uses and long-term trajectory monitoring of habitat and landscape features.
Surveys of Tricolored Bat Winter-Roost Structures on Eglin AFB and Hurlburt Field, 2019-2021
Lorraine Ketzler
Tricolored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) were petitioned for federal listing in 2016, and are found on both Eglin AFB and Hurlburt Field, FL. In areas where caves are not available for winter roosting, this species sometimes uses a variety of human structures instead, such as bridges and culverts. Maintenance, repair, or replacement of these structures could negatively impact tricolored bats if performed during winter. To identify which structures tricolored bats might be using on Eglin AFB and Hurlburt Field, we used acoustic bat detectors and infrared video cameras to survey structures across both bases over two winter seasons. We identified few structures that were used as roosts by bats, but detected multiple bats, including tricolored bats, foraging near structures. Identifying these few structures as bat roosts assists the military mission by identifying potential wildlife impacts so that alternative strategies can be taken to maintain these structures, promoting conservation and mission success.
Rediscovery of An Endangered Salamander on Hurlburt Field, FL: a Stepwise Process for Detection and Monitoring of a Rare Species
Sinead Borchert, Jenna King, Alexis Janosik, Lorraine Ketzler, Bill Tate
Reticulated flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma bishopi) larvae were last observed in a single ephemeral pond on Hurlburt Field, FL in 2014. Exploratory environmental DNA (eDNA) results suggested the endangered species was still using at least four ponds for breeding, but no larvae were caught in these ponds during two seasons of dip-net surveys. In 2020 we launched an intensive trapping program in an effort to capture live animals: over 660 traps were set in grids across 15 ponds. We also increased water sampling to 16 ponds at three monthly intervals during the breeding season to compare eDNA detections to our trapping data. Our objectives were to: 1) Determine which ephemeral ponds on Hurlburt Field, FL were occupied by flatwoods salamanders, if any; 2) Compare detections from eDNA sampling and larval trapping to assess where trapping efforts may be failing to confirm occupancy; and 3) Use eDNA results to identify ponds where larvae may not be surviving to metamorphosis. After 2600 trap checks, personnel successfully captured 57 larvae in four of the 15 ponds sampled. Salamanders had not been observed in those four ponds for more than 17 years. Eight of the 16 ponds sampled for eDNA had positive detections, including the four ponds confirmed to be occupied through captures. eDNA sampling also identified four additional ponds that may be occupied and one pond that may have high larval mortality. Despite its limitations, eDNA shows promise as a powerful tool for detecting rare species at low densities and targeting areas for further research, especially when resources may preclude intensive monitoring efforts, such as trapping.

Location: Virtual Date: November 3, 2021 Time: 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm