By Master Sgt. Greg C. Biondo, Airman Magazine
/ Published June 10, 2019
Aline Morrow, a USFWS biologist, helps survey and track animals such as the Florida Bonneted Bat, which some consider to be the most endangered bat in North America, at Avon Park Air Force Range. Video // TSgt. Perry Aston
The Red-Cockaded Woodpecker is an endangered species thriving on the Avon Park Air Force Range. About the size of a cardinal, the RCW calls the longleaf pines located on the range home. Marked and protected by the range mangers. The goal of the range is to expand the RCW habitat off the range and increase the population of birds. (U.S. Air Force courtesy Photo)
While cultural sites on public lands are sometimes vandalized (left), sites on ranges remain pristine (right) due to limited access. courtesy photo // Bureau of Land Management (left) U.S. Air Force photo // Nellis Cultural Resource Office
Air Force ranges are stewards of environmental and cultural conservation. Video // TSgt. Perry Aston
A very small area of the range is used for missions and targets while the surrounding area is left virtually untouched. U.S. Air Force photo // Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston
"I hear people call this place, the last bit of wild Florida or real Florida. You know, it's pretty cool" said Aline Morrow, a Fish & Wildlife Biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, assigned to Avon Park Air Force Range, Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
Considered that last piece of "Wild Florida" the contrast between the destruction of man on the left of Avon Park Range border fence, is a hunting camp, and pristine land of the range to the right. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
A map of the cultural dig sites on the Nevada Test and Training Range.
Within the confines of U.S. Air Force ranges there are things that exist nowhere else in the world.
Vast expanses of natural habitat containing unique plants and animals, archaeological sites and artifacts of Paleolithic Native Americans and cultures past, are contained in these, sometimes misunderstood, restricted spaces.
In fact, U.S. Air Force ranges support conservation efforts which strive to expand beyond man-made borders to increase numbers of threatened and endangered species to a healthy and sustainable population.
“I think the public has the perception that the training range is a bombing range in that we obliterate the entire range but that is a very large misconception,” said Anna Johnson, Nellis Air Force Base Natural Resource manager. “The target areas are a very small portion of the range and those target areas have remained the same for decades … going into the future the target areas are not supposed to change at all.”
These ranges, which are utilized for a wide variety of military training and or testing, try to strike a balance between responsible land stewardship and mission accomplishment.
Roads, targets and infrastructure account for less than 10 percent of the Nellis Test and Training Range landscape and the rest of the 2.9 million acres has been undeveloped and untouched. In fact, the only litter of note found on the range, according to Johnson, comes in the form of mylar balloons which travel extremely long distances.
“Plain and simple, if we as the Air Force don’t take care of this property we’re going to lose the ability to use it,” said Mr. Buck MacLaughlin, APAFR range manager. “This is natural real estate and this is land we have been entrusted with to be able to do our training.”
That trust is granted by the American people and backed by U.S. federal regulations.
“The stewardship of the land is a responsibility that falls upon the Department of Defense and by proxy the Air Force, through the Sikes Act, where essentially we are mandated to partner with conservation organizations,” said Col. Chris Zuhkle, NTTR commander.
“In this case [with the NTTR] it’s the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nevada Department of Wildlife that make sure that we meet not only our mission needs but also that we do everything in our power to meet the conservation requirements and sustainment for those lands.”
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over 300 federally listed species live on Defense Department land. Range environmental management offices must always be mindful they’re falling within the guidelines of the endangered species act to keep the best interest of the mission and environment on their radar. Avon Park has 12 endangered species, which are spread throughout the entire range area. The large habitat poses some unique challenges when it comes to mission planning.
“That costs money in terms of fuel, it costs money in terms of manpower and more importantly the units that need this training, those men and women who are going to go in harm’s way, they don’t get the ability to practice their craft if we’re not doing that other part.
According to Brent Bonner, APAFR environmental flight chief, the wildlife management piece takes a lot of moving parts to ensure mission accomplishment.
As part of the Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan species are constantly monitored so range operations knows their location and status, especially during critical times, such as nesting season for endangered birds, to help protect future generations of these rare creatures.
Aline Morrow, a USFWS biologist who works closely with the environmental flight, helps survey and track animals, such as the Florida Bonneted Bat, which some consider to be the most endangered bat in North America. She says the first natural roost of the bat was found on an impact area of Avon Park in 2014.
Once a roost is found, it’s marked and mission planners know to buffer a certain area around the roost so as not to disturb the bats.
While most of the efforts focus on managing the landscapes inhabited by wildlife to ensure they are able to thrive, it’s just a piece of the bigger picture.
The Wild and Free Roaming Wild Horses and Burro Act of 1971 established requirements to manage these animals, which aided America’s expansion and growth, while also making sure there is an ecological balance.
Tabatha Romero, BLM Wild Horse and Burro specialist, knows first-hand how important management practices are.
She says people have an idealized version of how these horses are and the animals should just be left alone, but they don’t see the harm caused when the horses are overpopulated and they overgraze or run out of water and mothers have foals that can’t nurse because they can’t produce milk.
“With the NTTR it goes to show how sound our management practices can be,” said Romero. “When we are allowed to use the tools available to us and conduct comprehensive environmental management programs we have healthy horses on healthy ranges and that’s the ultimate goal of our program.”
Sound management practices are essential to ensuring the mission is accomplished, but with ranges providing pristine landscapes and safe havens for several endangered species it can sometimes become the only place these plants and animals live. In order to protect these species, and more effectively accomplish training, ranges have started looking at growing conservation efforts outside their physical boundaries.
“This is a real estate negotiation with a landowner that comes to the table and says ‘I want to protect my property’,” stressed MacLaughlin.
The REPI program presented potential for conservation efforts and education to expand in a big way, but sometimes there were unforeseen issues.
Agencies such as the Department of Interior or Department of Agriculture may be trying to accomplish the same thing on the same lands but due to existing laws, where federal money could not be used from one account to the other, the efforts may be halted.
This is where the Sentinel Landscape Program, which APAFR was declared an official Sentinel Landscape in 2016, came in that allowed multiple agencies to leverage each other’s programs and focus on combined efforts.
“It’s a direct sustainment of the mission,” said Bonner. “As we increase the species on our property and they’re decreased off property they become more valuable to the public … we want to make sure we don’t get in a situation where we are the only people with Red Cockaded Woodpeckers – that will impact our mission. So, we want to go outside the fence on those conservation efforts, protecting those species.”
When a base or range requires building a new structure or beginning a new mission, it’s much more complicated than just planning for operations and making it happen.
Surveys and studies are done to ensure the space isn’t on ground that contains a culturally significant site, meaning it contains vital information such as relevant tools, or qualifying traces of history, that are eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
She then provides guidance or alternative solutions to operating around those sites and runs the plans up to the State Historic Preservation Office for review and approval. This process ensures that time, money, and resources are utilized in the best way possible to effectively accomplish the mission while still ensuring eligible sites remain protected.
Federal laws, regulations, and procedures, such as determining the APE, have been put in place to ensure these sites are preserved and treated with respect so as to not repeat the mistakes of the past when significant cultural resources were destroyed as highways and cities were built on top of potentially significant cultural sites.
Environmental teams across the nation’s ranges such as the NTTR, which has sites dating back 10,000 years and works closely with 17 Native American tribes, try to ensure that cultural ownership of the land is not lost.
“These tribes are very intact in their language, they still speak it fluently, they teach it in their schools to their children,” says Kish LaPierre, NAFB cultural resource manager. “They have amazing oral history so we work very closely with them and they give us information to help us protect the prehistoric and ethno historic sites.”
LaPierre says the conditions around the NTTR are perfect for the preservation of artifacts. There are several sites where, often times, there are baskets sitting still full of seeds and tools laying around as if the inhabitants just left and were planning to come back but they didn’t.
Understanding and mitigating the impact of how land use can have long lasting and far-reaching effects is on the forefront of the Air Force’s environmental programs.
Range teams across the country take great care when executing their mission to make sure they are not only following federal laws but also taking a vested interest in the lands they have been granted the ability to use so the past and present are preserved for future generations.
Lt. Gen. Jim Slife and the AFSOC we need
FYSA: Agility Prime
At Altitude Podcast: Brig. Gen. Jeffery D. Valenzia and ABMS
FYSA with SECAF Frank Kendall
The Debrief Podcast: Artificial Intelligence
Under Secretary Jones preparing for pacing challenge, prioritizing potential
Focused on strategic competition, Air Force Secretary Kendall confident “One Team, One Fight” will lead to success
FYSA: Game On!
Hypersonics: Adding Speed to the Quiver
Dr. Mark Lewis: Hypersonics and The Need For Speed
The Debrief Podcast: Women's Initiative Team
Women's Initiative Team : Taking Initiative, Breaking Barriers
Valenzia: ABMS Will Deliver the "Decision Advantage"
Disruptive Technology: The Quantum Frontier
Airframe: The F-35A Lightning II
Virtual Aggression - Real World Response
21st Century Recruiting Maj. Gen. Thomas
Preparing For A Storm
Airframe: The F-117 Nighthawk
Negative for COVID
A Natural Partnership
21st Century Deterrence
A Case for Space
PODCAST: Maj. Gen. Thomas, AFRS
The New Normal
B-52: Global Strike Workhorse
Learning Some Cold Truths
PODCAST: Maj. Gen. Higby
CMSAF Wright Looks Back
An Airman: First, Last, Always
Arctic Strategy Unveiled
PODCAST: Brig. Gen. Melancon
The Future Is Now
The A.I. Advantage
Everybody Looks Up
Red, White and Blast-Off
Answering the Call
Last of the Raiders
The Disease Detectives
Great Power Competition
Managing the Future Talent
Leader of the Pack
Research, Acquire, Sustain, Repeat
Foundation for Arctic Security
25th SecAF Barbara Barrett - The First Interview
Engaging the Arctic
Based In Trust
Built From Scratch
Air Base 201
PODCAST: ASAF Henderson
Closing the Gap
Squadrons 'Beating Heart' of the Air Force
Guarding the Nation's Skies
Faces on the Hill
Building A Power Base
Gateway To Readiness
At Close Range
Looking Down Range
The New Deterrent
PODCAST: Civil Air Patrol
Airframe: The CV-22 Osprey
Stewards of the Land
The Wright Stuff
SecAF Heather Wilson
PODCAST: Dr. Will Roper
Character Takes Flight
Talent and Total Force
Airframe: The B-17 Flying Fortress
Airframe: The Stearman Kaydet
Time is of the Essence
Airframe: The T-6A Texan II
Serving, Saving, Shaping
Airframe: The B-2 Spirit
21st Century Air National Guard
Out of the Box
Airframe: The HH-60G Pave Hawk
Changing the Story
The Agile 99th
Big Solutions From Small Places
The Lever of Culture
The Flying First
Sweet Taste of Freedom
Airframe: The T-38 Talon
Airframe: The KC-135 Stratotanker
Thawing the Middle
Airman To Be Awarded Medal Of Honor
In Perpetual Mission
Airframe: The C-5 Galaxy
Stop The Bleed, Save A Life
Speed and Fusion
Airframe: The EC-130H Compass Call
Staying On Track
Airframe: The B-1B Lancer
Icon of Airmanship
U.S. Air Force Chief Scientist
Advancing At The Speed Of Relevance
Airframe: The B-52H Stratofortress
No Detail Too Small
Airframe: The C-17 Globemaster III
Care in the Air
Airframe: The F-16 Fighting Falcon
The State of U.S. Strategic Command
Meet Under Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan
Airframe: The E-3 Sentry (AWACS)
Airframe: The AC-130 Gunship
Where the Sun Never Sets
Firing Up the Force
Formation of Friendship
Airframe: The A-10 Thunderbolt II
Airframe: The F-22 Raptor
A View from the Pacific
Creating Synthetic Teammates
Optimizing the Data Loop
Airframe: The F-15 Eagle
Global Already There
Airframe: The U-2 Dragon Lady
An Innovative Collaborative
Airframe: The SR-71 Blackbird
Battlefield Game Changer
Airframe: The F-35A Lightning II
No English, No Problem
The First Interview
ACC Flight Plan
The Night Watchmen
Guarding the Skies
Faces of Deterrence
The State of Air Force Medicine
Partners In Sight
Cadet Falconers Take Flight
F-4 Flies for Final Time
Farewell to the Chief
A Beneficial Development
Recipe For Success
A Mighty Display of Democracy
The Aircraft Canaries
Eyewitness To Infamy
Point Of Recovery
Avoiding the Last Step
Acquire, Assess, Exploit
Meals Readily Explained
Down the Hatch
Whispers of Another War
Bonjour, Mon Nom Est...
Embrace the Paste
Original Air Force One
Farewell to the Force
The Man-Machine Interface
The Swat Team
From Cradle To Space
Comfort in the Cold
House Of Pain
A Fighting Raven
Formation of a Legacy
Struck By The Thunderbolt
The Perfect Storm
A Solemn Mission
Aspiring To New Heights
Beyond the Blast Doors
Blood, Sweat, Perfection
An Original Rosie
Missing In America
"They Call Me Legend"
Forever An Airman
Forward From Vietnam
Digging For Answers
Behind the Hat
Santa By C-130
Civil War Moments
From Beyond the Flames
Hang In There
One Step Forward
The Human Weapon
The Perfect Edge
The Hands Of Time
Standing in the Door
From the Ground Up
A Spartan Death
Ties That Bind
Trauma To Triumph
'Katrina Girl' Found
A Look Back
C-17 Health Care
Students of Fire
Bird's Eye View
Frozen Tundra Warriors
Taking a Load Off
Full Steam Ahead
Maintaining Red Flag
Crossing Country Line
Taking It to the Woods
Heavens to Betsy