Leader Blues

Friday, January 08, 2010

TOP STORY >> Air base wins conservation award

From left, Ken Coley, Arkansas Forestry Commission assistant director; Col. Kirk Lear, 314th Airlift Wing vice commander; Alana Myers, Child Development Center director; Janet Carson, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service master gardener coordinator, and Col. Michael Zick, 19th Airlift Wing vice commander; plant a tree during the base’s Arbor Day ceremony. Arbor Day, which celebrates the beauty and utility of trees, was first observed in 1885, the creation of a Nebraska pioneer, Sterling Morton.

The Natural State’s largest military base was recently recognized by Air Mobility Command for its excellent environmental stewardship.

The base’s 19th Civil Engineer Squadron’s Natural Resources Element won the command’s 2009 General Thomas D. White Natural Resources Conservation Award in the small base category.

“Little Rock Air Force Base personnel and all of our state and federal environmental partners can take great pride in winning this award. It takes a lot of people from many different agencies working together to make all of our different natural resources programs work,” said James Popham, 19th CES natural resources manager.

The base has a very active natural-resources program overseeing 6,100-plus acres of diverse habitat, terrain, flora and fauna — of which about 3,000 acres are wooded. The program manages all aspects of natural resources including urban and commercial forests, fish and wildlife, streams, lakes, wetlands, and floodplains, endangered species, hunting and fishing, and even geological resources.

“All this diversity adds to the health of the base’s ecosystems and provides base personnel with a great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors right in their backyards,” Popham said.

The base hunting program is used to control the 400-plus deer herd while providing recreation for hunters with little cost to the Air Force.

Keeping the deer population under control helps reduce the tick infestation, maintain a healthy deer herd, and reduce the chance a deer will get hit by an airplane on the runway or by a car on the main base, Popham said.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission gave the base 250 “Unrestricted Weapons” doe tags to support this population control.

The two base lakes are managed for recreational fishing as well as an endangered species, the interior least tern. The AGFC routinely stocks the base lakes with catfish and rainbow trout in support of recreational fishing and helps deliver minnows to stock for the interior least terns.

The interior least terns were discovered in 2006 feeding at the base lakes and ponds. In 2007, the birds were discovered using the top of Building 450 as a safe- haven when the Arkansas River was too flooded for them to nest on the sand bars.

The base now works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and AGFC to protect and support the largest interior least tern nesting colony in the state.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials said the base’s discovery and efforts to protect the least terns nests are very significant for the Arkansas River population.

“The base was the first to report and identify rooftop nesting of the interior least terns in Arkansas. Our knowledge of the species, its behavior, and requirements for recovery has increased substantially due to the base’s discovery and assistance,” said Lindsey Lewis of the Fish and Wildlife Service. “Without the base’s findings and efforts, we would have no knowledge of rooftop nesting, the actual annual population numbers or actual recruitment success that is occurring.”

This year also marks the base’s 16th year as a Tree City USA. The base has also been recognized by the Arkansas Forestry Commission for its active urban forestry program.

The urban forest on base is worth over a million dollars for storm-water runoff control and the removal of air pollutants, Popham said.

“Our Tree City USA recognition shows we have an ongoing plan to care for our urban trees. We try to protect our trees during construction projects starting with the design process. We saved many big trees from construction including the sixth-largest post oak in the state located next to the base housing Welcome Center,” Popham said.

The base has an active commercial forest program and the timber is sold and that money is used to make improvements to other base forest areas.

The base recently teamed with the Army Corps of Engineers to harvest more than 50 acres of commercial timber.

About 10 of those acres were located where the new joint-education center is being built at the corner of Vandenberg Boulevard and Hwy. 67/167.

The project saved the base at least $50,000 in land-clearing costs.

The base will now compete for an Air Force-level award which honors Gen. Thomas D. White, Air Force chief of staff from 1957 to 1961. He charted the course for Air Force environmental programs.

The purpose of the award is to promote excellence in every aspect of Air Force natural-resources conservation programs and is designed to recognize efforts of Air Force installations for conservation of natural resources.

(Reprinted from the Combat Airlifter, the Little Rock Air Force Base newspaper.)