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Habitat called key to saving endangered species

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POSTED: October 10, 2012 12:54 p.m.
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Wildlife biologists Ellie Sukkestad and Jerry Avalos hold shortnose sturgeons. The fish are one of several endangered or threatened species on Fort Stewart.

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Restoring, protecting and enhancing habitat are a key part of Fort Stewart’s endangered-species program, according to Tim Beaty, chief of the Fish and Wildlife Branch of the Environmental and Natural Resource Division of the Directorate of Public Works.
Beaty and wildlife biologist supervisor Larry Carlile said several species listed on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species List are benefiting from their endangered species program, much of which is accomplished in cooperation with Fort Stewart’s forestry branch.
Carlile said Fort Stewart’s endangered or threatened species include the wood stork, shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon, frosted flatwoods salamander, red-cockaded woodpecker, eastern indigo snake, gopher tortoise and smooth coneflower.
“We found the coneflower on about a tenth of an acre — nowhere else,” Carlile said. “The (gopher tortoise) is a federal candidate for the endangered species list, but here in Georgia, they’re only listed as threatened. Their numbers are down because of habitat loss and because some are accidentally killed during local rattlesnake roundups.”
Beaty added that a petition has been presented to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the diamondback rattlesnake as endangered. He said their numbers are down primarily due to roundups, many of which have now turned into wildlife festivals.
Carlile noted that five of Stewart’s seven endangered or threatened species thrive on the same type of habitat — longleaf-pine forests. These tall, fire-resistant trees once covered the Southeastern states, he said. Where the longleaf pine still exists or where they’re reintroduced, red-cockaded woodpeckers, frosted flatwoods salamanders, eastern indigo snakes, gopher tortoises and smooth coneflowers still can be found.
“One of the reasons our program has been a success is that we’ve focused on habitat,” Beaty said. “We’ve been able to de-emphasize protecting a species by limiting training in certain areas. Our experience has shown that if we do a good job of protecting habitat, we’re already protecting the (endangered) species.”
Beaty pointed to a graph depicting the density of endangered and imperiled species on federal agency lands, including the Bureau of Land Management, Department of Defense, U.S. Forest Service, Federal Wildlife Service and National Park Service. The number of endangered species per 100,000 hectares was more than three times greater on DoD-managed land than other agency land.
“We don’t have the same pressures on DoD lands as other federal agencies,” he explained. “Other agencies have to open their lands up for grazing, timber operations and mining. The impact of artillery rounds in an area is not as great as grazing, a clear-cut (timber) operation or mining operation.”
Beaty compared the success of Fort Stewart’s habitat restoration program has had on endangered species to the success of managed game lands. He said there’s not a single game animal on the endangered list because their habitat is managed to ensure their survival.
Unlike 100 years ago, before hunting regulations and game management, he said, hunters no longer can be blamed for endangered species. To the contrary, he said game land management — much of it funded by hunters’ license fees and federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition — protects habitat, therefore benefiting both game and non-game species.
Beaty and Carlile admit their wildlife biology, entomology and botany skills sometimes are tested to identify a particular species, particularly rare animals and plants.
“For the most part, we have enough depth of expertise on our staff to identify most animals and plants,” said Beaty, noting his staff includes not only wildlife biologists but a retired Navy entomologist. “When we need outside help, we’ve partnered with the Botanical Garden (in Atlanta) or experts at Georgia Southern.”
He said the DoD has been a leader in protecting and enhancing endangered species populations, especially the red-cockaded woodpecker. In March 2010, Fort Stewart received the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2009 Military Conservation Partner Award.

 

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