“Training-scape” helps soldiers, wildlife
This post comes to us from our partner site, www.youngforest.org, a resource dedicated to keeping young forest on our landscape. Let’s grow wildlife habitat together! Our agency is a partner for this specific Pennsylvania project, and one of our volunteers, Dave Putnam, has dedicated many efforts to it.
It sounds like a contradiction in terms: An active military base that’s a wildlife hotspot. But at Fort Indiantown Gap in central Pennsylvania (known simply as “the Gap”), staff conservationists are shaping a landscape for military training while simultaneously making and maintaining thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, including native grasslands and young forest, rare and getting rarer in the Northeast where mature forest increasingly dominates the land.
“Fort Indiantown Gap is one of the most biodiverse places I’ve ever been,” reports Forest Program Manager Shannon Henry, “and that’s because we proactively manage it.”
Henry works closely with Joseph Hovis, who heads the base’s Wildlife Section. On the 17,000-acre base more than 125,000 soldiers train each year. They need ranges where they can drive tanks and practice shooting weapons from rifles to cannons. Hovis’s and Henry’s job is to keep that “training-scape” functioning through prescribed burning, timber harvests, and brush-cutting.
“We keep the vegetation short – less than 10 feet on a shooting range, for example,” says Hovis. “Each year we apply fire to 3,000 to 5,000 acres and harvest timber on another 200 to 300 acres.”
Those activities yield the kind of periodic disturbances that once were common – disturbances that set back vegetative growth and give rise to patches of young forest and grassland that move around on the landscape. At the Gap, such ephemeral habitats provide food and cover for a broad range of creatures including woodcock, bobwhite quail, catbirds, towhees, brown thrashers, blue grosbeaks, box turtles, wood turtles, spotted turtles, smooth greensnakes, timber rattlesnakes – the list goes on and on.