Army investigates ways to protect rare species

July 05, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

The U.S. Army is engaged in a mission to protect endangered species and strengthen its role in the conservation movement as the government enacts stricter environmental laws.

"In terms of environmental regulations and statutes, we must comply," said Col. William McGowan, guest speaker at the monthly environmental update meeting at Aberdeen Proving Ground on Tuesday.

"They are looking at treating us the same way . . . as a private corporation," said the colonel, chief of the Army's environmental law division in Washington, D.C.

With military installations containing vast areas of undeveloped land across the country, Army officials are finding themselves at the center of efforts to protect endangered species, Col. McGowan said.

At Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the Army has hired experts to find ways to protect a rare breed of woodpecker. At Fort Irwin in California, an expansion of the national training center has been delayed pending a study on the desert tortoise.

The Army has been sued by conservationists who believe the agency has not done enough to reintroduce the near-extinct Mexican gray wolf at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. About 40 of the wolves live in captivity.

And at APG, the Army has set up special programs to promote the bald eagle and Maryland darter, both of which are on the national list of endangered species.

"The intent is very simple, to protect the wildlife which we have here," said Jim Pottie, an environmental protection specialist at APG. "The military has become very sensitive in finding innovative ways to protect [endangered wildlife] and get the job done."

For bald eagles, the Army does not conduct military tests in areas used during the nesting season, which runs from December through the spring, Mr. Pottie said.

When the Army started plans during the past year to construct a so-called superpond -- a testing facility that measures the endurance of submarines during explosions -- along the Bush River, it conducted a study to find how the facility would affect the nesting and feeding of eagles, Mr. Pottie noted.

The study showed the superpond would pose no significant impact over the long-term, Mr. Pottie said. However, the Army decided to plant trees to screen the facility and limit its operations at times when eagles are hunting for fish in the river.

For the Maryland darter, a three-inch fish that inhabits Deer Creek in northern Harford, the Army built ponds along the creek at its tank-testing center in the early 1980s to prevent sediment from running into the water and killing aquatic life used as food by the darter, Mr. Pottie said. "We thought it was the right thing to do," he said.

Meanwhile, federal departments -- including the Army -- are coming under scrutiny from states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency checking into compliance of environmental laws, Col. McGowan added.

The colonel said EPA is expected to initiate a program that would require comprehensive evaluations at targeted federal facilities. He did not say whether APG would be one of those facilities.

If violations are discovered, the Army and other agencies would face fines of up to $25,000 a day until corrective steps are taken, Col. McGowan said.

"We're talking about a big potential impact," he said.

The colonel's message hit home with his audience at the APG meeting.

"The message is loud and clear," said Maj. Gen. Ronald V. Hite, commander of APG. "We are stewards of the environment."

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