FORT PICKETT, Va. — The Virginia National Guard’s Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett took third place honors in the Natural Resources category of the Fiscal Year 2020 Army National Guard Environmental Security Awards, according to announcement published Dec. 8, 2020, by National Guard Bureau.
“Congratulations on your winning entry for the FY 2020 Environmental Security Awards,” wrote Col. Anthony Hammett, Army National Guard G9, in the announcement. “Your outstanding program has resulted in environmental excellence. You have set the standard for the states and territories with your innovation and accomplishments.”
The Massachusetts Army National Guard’s Camp Edwards took first place, and the Texas Army National Guard’s Camp Swift took second.
The submission packet, primarily assembled by Scooter Cogar, the environmental compliance manager for the Virginia Department of Military Affairs, and Kristin Petersen, a National Guard Bureau contractor, outlines the robust Natural Resources Conservation Program sustaining the habitats enabling critical training and integrating Environmental, Sustainable Range Program, Integrated Training Area Management, Forestry, and Fish and Wildlife offices in a holistic management approach.
“The in-house talents of this staff are bolstered by valuable partnerships which have made MTCFP a regional leader for environmental conservation,” wrote Cogar in the submission packet.
Among the NRC milestones achieved on the installation over the past two years highlighted in the submission packet were a groundbreaking study of Michaux’s sumac and endangered species, and an aggressive initiative to eradicate invasive species. An extensive stream restoration project was also completed, creating three acres of wetlands and enhancing stormwater protections.
The stream restoration project not only expanded wetlands from 1/10 of an acre to three acres, but also restored 2,400 linear feet of banks. The resulting improvements in turbidity and sedimentation address erosion risks for the training site and benefit delicate species on the watershed. The restoration additionally supports the stormwater permit required for MTCFP’s recycling center and creates the possibility for safe training access in a previously unusable area.
“The end result is that it functions as designed, is safer for the troops and looks a lot better, in my opinion,” said Cogar.
One of the other highlights cited is MTCFP’s management of Michaux’s sumac, an endangered plant found in parts of the property, which has forced some training restrictions. The NRC program partnered with other agencies including Fort Bragg and the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation to conduct a first of its kind study of the plant’s genetics
“Results of the study will guide future management actions of the species across its distribution and will place reclassification and eventual delisting of the species within the possibility of the near future,” Cogar wrote int he report.
The NRC staff have also made great gains in the battle against invasive kudzu, tree of heaven and autumn olive, species that can dramatically limit dismounted access. Approximately 95% of the kudzu has now been eliminated, and in FY19, tree of heaven was reduced by 76%.
The NRC staff continues to implement a new Landscape Diversification Project designed to establish wildlife corridors and open areas within large expanses of forested habitat. These openings serve the needs of wildlife, but also double as hide positions and tactical strike points for units maneuvering and training.
“Many of these gains have been possible because of the comprehensive staff assembled for NRC management,” said Cogar in the submission packet. “The five staff on the post in the NRC section integrate environmental, ITAM, DPW and Forestry, allowing for overlapping mandates to be met in the most efficient way possible. This staff is supported by the Environmental Program Manager, GIS specialists, and cultural resources staff.”
Cogar said rather than keeping these specialties isolated, MTCFP has been able to improve communication and cooperation across them for a whole-landscape approach that keep training centered in all operations.
With these collaborators and the implementation of the Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan updated last year, MTCFP remains in full environmental compliance and focused on its programmatic priorities. Among these are the expansion of in-house programs to save money and leverage partner resources.
The prescribed fire program, a key land management technique for the installation, is conducted nearly entirely in-house with the combined support of Environmental, ITAM, Forestry, and Range Maintenance; training recertification is offered on post each year.
On average, this team tackles fire management for around 10,000 acres each year for habitat enhancement as well as around 75% of the range complex for fuel load reduction.
The MTCFP’s NRC program has also fostered strong partnerships to leverage resources and expertise at a regional level. The sumac study in particular brought together environmental regulatory and academic communities in a shared commitment to species recovery. Partners in the research effort include Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Virginia Tech Conservation Management Institute, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, North Carolina Department of Transportation and U.S. Army Fort Bragg.
Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett is the premier training site for the Virginia Army National Guard, a designated Regional Training Center offering a wide variety of training experiences for the VAARNG and units from throughout the nation. On its nearly 42,000 acres, MTCFP provides 20 live fire ranges for weapons and simulations including state-of-the-art Multipurpose Range Complex and Multi-Purpose Machine Gun Range as well as numerous non-standard live-fire lanes, a forward operations base, a 16-building Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain site with a Combined Arms Collective Training Facility, Urban Assault Course, shoothouse, several village simulation sites, Infantry Platoon Battle Course and an Engineer Float Bridge training area. Also present on MTCFP are pristine forests, threatened and endangered species and high-quality wetland habitats.