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Wildlife expert protects species on post
Faces and Places
Larry Carlile
Larry Carlile, chief of monitoring and planning for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services on Fort Stewart, holds a book about the red cockaded woodpecker. - photo by Photo by Lauren Hunsberger
Name: Larry Carlile

Age: 49

Chief of monitoring and planning for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services on Fort Stewart

How did you get into this profession?
“I came here in 1994. I was in a wildlife management school with the University of Georgia, working down at Tall Timbers research station for a few years managing longleaf pine wiregrass ecosystems and endangered red cockaded woodpeckers. And then this job opened up.”
What are your primary objectives for the installation land? “We manage endangered species on the installation, fisheries management on the installation, and then also game management on the installation.”

What endangered species do you monitor on Fort Stewart?
“The red cockaded woodpecker. We also have the endangered wood stork, which doesn’t breed here on the installation, but they do forage here when the water levels are right for them.
“We have threatened frosted flatwood salamanders. We also have the endangered short-nosed sturgeon in the Canoochee River, and we also have the threatened eastern indigo snake, which is found in close association with the gopher tortoise colonies on the installation. They use those burrows in the winter.  They are the largest non-venomous snake in North America, it‘s really a beautiful animal.”

That’s a lot of endangered species. Is that more than most installations? “There are quite a few on Fort Stewart, but really a lot military installations have endangered species on them because most of them haven’t been managed [developed] like the properties around them. Most of them haven’t been clear-cut.
“While there may be intensive military training going on, there are also large areas that really don’t have any human traffic, so endangered species around there are still found in pretty good numbers. Some of the largest red cockaded woodpecker populations are found on military installations.”

How many endangered woodpeckers are on Fort Stewart? “We have about 330 active clusters. A cluster is the aggregate of trees that a family of red cockaded woodpeckers uses. They are really interesting birds. They’re cooperative breeders, which means that there’s a mom and a dad and often times a son from a previous year’s nest that stays with its mom and dad and helps them raise the next year’s chicks. That’s kind of unusual in the bird world.”

 What kind of data do you collect on the birds? “We pull anywhere from 200-250 nestlings from their cavities [tree dwellings] every year when they’re anywhere from 7-9 days old, band them, put them back in the cavity. Then we go back to the cavity when those chicks get ready to fledge and see how many actually made it out of the cavity and what sex they are.”

You mentioned you also help create artificial tree cavities for the birds to live in, which helps them thrive. How has the population grown since you’ve started tracking and helping them? “When I first started working here, we had 157 active clusters and that was in ’94. This year we had 330. So, we’ve more than doubled their population.”

What are some of the other projects you‘re working on? “We spend a good bit of time monitoring and managing the eastern indigo snakes along with the gopher tortoises. We conducted studies through the University of Georgia here where we radio tracked the snakes to get an idea of where their home range is.”
They also pit-tag the snakes to follow them through the years because he said they live a long time. They have been tracking some snakes for more than a decade now.

Do you catch the snakes with your hands? Is there a science to that?
“Absolutely. You can’t really trap them … There’s an art to it. I don’t know if you’d call it a science or not, but yeah, you have to have a feel for it and know the proper day to go out and look for them.”

What role do gopher tortoises play? “In 2007 the Army issued its guidelines for management of gopher tortoises on Army populations. So, over and above what the state and U.S. Fish and Wildlife requires folks to do for the tortoise, the Army has said, ‘This is what you’ll do for the conservation of the tortoise.’”

Are there restrictions for training because of the endangered species, mainly the woodpeckers? “There are some clusters that are protected, that are marked, and soldiers can see them as they move through the woods. Sometimes they’re not marked, so if they don’t know what a woodpecker cavity looks like in the woods, they don’t know they’re there.”

Fort Stewart is the largest Army installation east of the Mississippi River. How hard is it to manage all this land?
“It’s about 280,000 acres so that’s quite a challenge. It’s one reason our staff is relatively large.”

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