By MEGAN DURISIN
Capital News Service
LANSING – Soldiers and scientists at the Fort Custer Training Center in Augusta are being recognized for their conservation efforts, including habitat improvement and protection of endangered species.
The fort, located 10 miles outside Battle Creek, was one of three U.S. Army National Guard installations to earn a Secretary of the Army award for their environmental and sustainability programs.
Greg Huntington, chief of the environmental division for the Michigan National Guard, said the base won for the overall land improvements made by its staff.
“With the natural resource management they’ve done there, they’ve been bringing back native species we haven’t seen at Fort Custer for some time or even in this part of the state for some time,” Huntington said.
Capt. Corissa Barton, a public affairs representative for the National Guard, said Fort Custer’s projects include wetlands and prairie restoration.
“They’ve planted flowers that brought back a butterfly about to be extinct,” Barton said.
Huntington said Fort Custer is under consideration as the release site for the reintroduction of the Mitchell’s satyr butterfly, which was on the federal endangered species list.
Stephen Hamilton, a Michigan State University professor at the Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners, said that would be a significant achievement.
“The management they did was important, bringing in fires at certain times of the year to keep trees out,” Hamilton said. “In the past, these places burned because Native Americans burned them or from lightning fires. This butterfly requires a very specific type of wetland.”
He said Kellogg, which partners with Fort Custer, did water quality sampling at the base to help the Army develop a management plan.
“We created a little dam to restore a historically drained wetland,” Hamilton said.
Ducks Unlimited, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Potawatomi Resource Conservation and Development in Marshall also helped with the restoration.
Huntington said Fort Custer, which has four environmental staff, is also collaborating with other groups, including the Kalamazoo Nature Center and Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy in Portage.
“The more partners you get, the more ideas you get,” he said.
The base is also conducting fieldwork on migratory birds, the Eastern box turtle, the Mitchell’s satyr and another endangered butterfly species.
“We’re doing research on the Eastern box turtle so we can learn how to better protect it and give that information to others,” Huntington said.
However, Huntington said the main reason for Fort Custer’s environmental efforts is to improve the site for soldiers. For example, the staff has been eradicating invasive plant species that make the terrain rougher and bringing back native ones to clear the land for training.
As a result, Huntington said, soldiers can get on the ground without prickly brush getting in their way.
Huntington said the staff always keeps in mind that the area is a training site, not a nature preserve.
Barton also said Fort Custer uses green technologies because the National Guard wants to keep the area in its original state.
“We take over these big pieces of land for training,” Barton said. “It’s our responsibility to keep them the way they are.”
Huntington said the Army is leading the way in green efforts across the country.
“There was significant competition for this award,” Huntington said, including installations run by the Marines and Air Force.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.