Wildlife Thrives on Military Range

November 23rd, 2004 - by admin

Associated Press / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – 2004-11-23 09:26:12


FORT McCOY, WISCONSIN (November 20, 2004) — A wildlife sanctuary has developed over the years in an unlikely place — a firing range and Wisconsin’s largest
military installation.

Fort McCoy is home to a 60,000-acre wilderness that has changed little in six decades it has been under Army control. From amphibians to birds to mammals, wildlife and humans have coexisted relatively peacefully here.

There are 35 species of amphibians and reptiles, more than 200 species of birds within a 10-mile radius. Timber wolves and two nesting pairs of bald eagles have made the range their home, and platforms have been built for ospreys.

“A lot of people drive by and think it’s off limits and just for military training, but there’s a lot of recreational opportunities,” said John Noble, fisheries biologist at Fort McCoy. Some areas are used for military training — 28,000 soldiers have trained here since Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — and off limits for visitors, but people can hunt, fish and trap on parts of the property.

For example, the facility’s 2,000 deer-gun-hunting permits, which costs $16 besides the state-issued permit, sell out regularly. Last year, more than 1,000 deer were killed at Fort McCoy during the gun-deer and archery seasons.

Ft. McCoy Employs Foresters and Wildlife Biologists
Among the 1,000-plus Fort McCoy employees are wildlife, endangered species and fisheries biologists, archaeologists and foresters. The Biological and Cultural Resources Branch helps protect the environment here.

When officers want to send soldiers out into the field to fire weapons, camp out, shoot off artillery and drive tanks, they contact this team to make sure the area isn’t a habitat for an endangered species or a place scheduled for a prescribed burn or prairie restoration.

For example, to protect pockets of wild lupines covering 4,000 acres, a computer database keeps track of the number of soldiers, type and amount of ammunition and type of vehicles throughout the base, so the land can be re-seeded and leveled out.

“Obviously training comes first,” said Brent Friedel, program manager of Integrated Training Area Management. “We’ll say, if you really need to do this, fine, but what are the costs? What do we need to do to rehabilitate the land?”

Military Training v. Endangered Species
The effort has enabled Fort McCoy to have one of the few large populations of the endangered Karner blue butterfly, which relies on wild lupines to lay its larvae, in North America. Fort McCoy is also full of scrub oaks, northern oaks, aspen, red maples and red pines. It has thousands of acres of jack pines.

A fire department is on hand not only to put out fires that occur during the training, but to do controlled burns of vegetation for training needs, prevention of fire hazards and to spur forest growth.

To provide different terrain for soldiers, trees also are thinned through timber sales, during which bidders are advised they may be filled with lead from ammunition. “The soldiers are concerned about the environment. You don’t see a tank just go through the forest knocking down trees,” said forester Jim Kerkman said.

Archaeologists also believe American Indian tribes used to live on this land. They have discovered a large number of flakes left from humans making stone tools from around 1,000 BC and pieces of ceramic pottery from around AD 700.

About 100 small areas are protected from timber cutting or military training because of their historical importance, said Stephen Wagner, an archaeologist from Colorado State University who has worked at McCoy since 1999.

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