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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Military Mimics Mother Nature

Air Date: Week of

Host Steve Curwood talks to Richard Warner of the Nature Conservancy about the role of military land as unintentional wildlife habitat. A database created by the Nature Conservancy indicates that Department of Defense land may harbor as many rare and endangered species as other public lands deliberately created to preserve wildlife.


CURWOOD: The biodiversity at Fort Ord may be unique in its content but not in its occurrence. According to researchers at the Nature Conservancy, US military bases are among the most biologically rich areas in the nation. The Nature Conservancy has been compiling a computer database of rare and endangered species on public lands, working in cooperation with the government. Richard Warner is in charge of the project, and he joins us on the line from Washington. Mr. Warner, just how important are military lands in terms of biodiversity?

WARNER: Our data indicates that Department of Defense lands harbors many endangered species, as the lands of Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, or Bureau of Land Managements. For example, at Nullis Air Force Base in Nevada, our teams last year discovered large new populations of the Miriam bear claw poppy. This is a species that is a candidate for Federal listing. It was previously known from only about a dozen populations between Death Valley and Las Vegas, probably totaling less than 1,000 individuals. And our work at Nullis, we've turned up 25 additional populations totaling more than 50,000 individuals. This may be enough to remove this species from consideration for Federal listing.

CURWOOD: And when you say listing you mean listing as an endangered or a threatened species.

WARNER: Yes, exactly. Under the Endangered Species Act.

CURWOOD: Why is it that the military has such a rich diversity of rare or endangered species?

WARNER: Many of the military lands are very large preserves. They acquired many of these lands very early in the century, and often acquired them in areas where we don't have national parks or other sorts of protected areas. Many of the military lands have been pretty much off limits, and in addition, the military mission often does not disturb the land very much; they often want an intact landscape for their exercises and training. There are several cases where the military mission has in fact helped mimic the natural ecological processes. For example, some of their firing ranges, they in fact start fires on a very regular basis, in ecosystems where fires are in fact needed. Whereas off side the installations we've often suppressed those fires.

CURWOOD: Are you optimistic about the future of your work in the cataloguing of the species that are on Defense Department land?

WARNER: Oh, very, very optimistic. Steve, let me give you an example of how the military has taken a proactive approach to managing biodiversity. In New Mexico, the Orgin Mountains are an area with a number of endemic species, such as the knotting rock daisy and the organ evening primrose. While these species are not endangered right now, they're not found anywhere else in the world. And the military managers at Fort Bliss are interested in managing those lands to ensure that those species maintain healthy populations in the Orgin Mountains and thereby avoiding any need to list these species in the future. The military has proved a very good partner in not only developing inventories on their lands, but also on how they manage their lands.

CURWOOD: Thank you very much for taking this time to join us. Richard Warner is director of conservation databases for the Nature Conservancy in Washington. Thank you, sir.

WARNER: Thank you, Steve.



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