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Red-cockaded woodpecker. Photo by Martjan Lammertink, U.S. Forest Service.

Base recognized for conservation work

Home for woodpeckers, tortoises, awarded

Camp Blanding, flush with federally endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, donates juvenile birds to other wildlife areas across the South. Nearly two-thirds of the National Guard base in Northeast Florida is prime habitat for at-risk gopher tortoises too.

More than 10,000 acres of pine and scrub is carefully burned each year to benefit under-threat flora and fauna as well as conservation-friendly longleaf pines. And the joint military base is a critical piece in the creation of a wildlife corridor that connects central Florida to southeast Georgia.

The military installation also provides access each year to hunters, with an emphasis on providing opportunities for hunters with disabilities, seeking whitetail deer, wild hogs and turkeys.

The wide-ranging conservation and community actions have earned Camp Blanding the 2018 Military Conservation Partner Award given annually by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The award has been given since 2004. A ceremony will be held May 30 at the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center.

“We are honored to be recognized for our efforts in military conservation at Camp Blanding,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Calhoun, the Adjutant General of Florida. “Our partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) allows Camp Blanding to maintain its position as the premier training installation in the southeast while the Florida National Guard maintains its combat readiness and conserves Florida’s native wildlife.”

Camp Blanding, near Starke, is used primarily by the Florida Army National Guard for light infantry training. Non-flying units of the state’s Air National Guard are also housed at the 73,000-acre installation.

Protection of the woody, swampy and sandy terrain for a variety of at-risk species, with habitat management help from the FWC and nonprofit groups, underscores the base’s environmental bonafides.

“Camp Blanding truly understands that wildlife conservation and military readiness are indeed compatible,” said Michael Oetker, the Service’s Acting Regional Director in the Southeast. “This award underscores the base’s commitment to protecting nature and the American people.”

The Service, the military and the FWC signed a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances last year to boost the base’s conservation efforts and keep nearly two dozen at-risk fish and wildlife off the Endangered Species list. Landowners, under the CCAA, voluntarily commit to conservation to help stabilize or restore a plant or animal which helps to preclude the need for a threatened or endangered listing. In return, the military gets regulatory certainty and a promise that, even if a plant or animal is added to the threatened or endangered list, training may continue apace.

Blanding has since undertaken a variety of conservation measures to help keep the gopher tortoise, striped newt and 20 other animals and plants from being federally listed.

Annual prescribed fires transform the thicket-laden, pine-heavy forests into a more natural and healthy habitat prized by tortoises, woodpeckers and Eastern indigo snakes. They also provide a safer, less-cluttered environment for training.

Camp Blanding translocates gopher tortoises from live-fire zones to a nearby conservation preserve where the state-threatened species can safely live out their days. Federally listed species also benefit from the base’s conservation actions.

The base, for example, reached its red-cockaded woodpecker recovery goal of 25 potential breeding groups in 2009 — ahead of schedule. It has since helped translocate additional birds to regions across the South that haven’t met their Service-suggested goals.

Roughly 55 stream crossings have been reinforced, with more than 8,000 tons of granite rock, across the installation which helps reduce erosion and improve water quality. Camp Blanding is also an important piece in a conservation greenway stretching from the Ocala National Forest up through the Osceola National Forest and into Georgia. Wide-roaming animals like the Florida black bear will one day benefit from the wildlife corridor.

“We appreciate how Camp Blanding has managed the complexities of balancing fish and wildlife conservation, public hunting and fishing opportunities, and the training and readiness of our national military,” said Dr. Thomas Eason, Assistant Executive Director of the FWC. “The FWC congratulates Camp Blanding for the thoughtful planning, hard work, and conservation successes recognized by this significant award.”

Ever since passage of the Sikes Act in 1960, the Service has worked even more closely with the military to conserve fish, wildlife and land on approximately 25 million acres managed by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Contacts

Elsie Davis, Public Affairs Specialist
elsie_davis@fws.gov, (404) 679-7107

Heath Rauschenberger, Deputy Field Supervisor, North Florida ES Office
heath_rauschenberger@fws.gov, (904) 731-3203,

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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