The Natural State’s largest military base was recently recognized by Air Mobility Command for its excellent environmental stewardship.
The base’s 19th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources Element won the command’s 2009 General Thomas D. White Natural Resources Conservation Award, Small Base Category.
“Little Rock AFB personnel and all of our state and federal environmental partners can take great pride in winning this award. It takes a lot of people from many different agencies working together to make all of our different natural resources programs work,” said James Popham, 19th CES natural resources manager.
The base has a very active natural resources program overseeing 6,100-plus acres of diverse habitat, terrain, flora and fauna -- of which about 3,000 acres are wooded. The program manages all aspects of natural resources including urban and commercial forests; fish and wildlife; streams, lakes, wetlands, and floodplains; endangered species; hunting and fishing, and even geological resources.
“All this diversity adds to the health of the base’s ecosystems and provides base personnel with a great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors right in their backyards,” Mr. Popham said.
The base’s hunting program is used to control the 400-plus deer herd while providing recreation for hunters with little cost to the Air Force. Keeping the deer population under control helps reduce the tick infestation, maintain a healthy deer herd, and reduce the chance a deer will get hit by an airplane on the runway or by a car on the main base, Mr. Popham said. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission gave the base 250 “Unrestricted Weapons” doe tags to support this population control.
The two base lakes are managed for recreational fishing as well as the endangered species of bird, the Interior Least Tern. The AGFC routinely stocks the base lakes with catfish and rainbow trout in support of recreational fishing and helps us deliver minnows we buy to stock for the Interior Least Terns.
The Interior Least Terns were discovered in 2006 feeding at the base lakes and ponds and in 2007, the birds were discovered using the top of Building 450 as a safe haven when the Arkansas River was too flooded for them to nest on the sand bars.
Little Rock AFB now works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and AGFC to protect and support the largest Interior Least Tern nesting colony in the state.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said the bases’ discovery and efforts to protect the Least Terns nests are very significant for the Arkansas River population.
“The base was the first to report and identify rooftop nesting of Interior Least Tern in Arkansas. Our knowledge of the species, its behavior, and requirements for recovery has increased substantially due to the bases discovery and assistance,” said Lindsey Lewis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Without the base’s findings and efforts, we would have no knowledge of rooftop nesting, the actual annual population numbers or actual recruitment success that is occurring.”
This year also marks the base’s 16th Year as a Tree City USA. The base has also been recognized by the Arkansas Forestry Commission for its active urban forestry program. The urban forest on base is worth over a million dollars for storm water runoff control and the removal of air pollutants, Mr. Popham said.
“Our Tree City USA recognition shows we have an ongoing plan to care for our urban trees. We try to protect our trees during construction projects starting with the design process. We saved many big trees from construction including the 6th largest Post Oak in the state located next to the base housing Welcome Center,” Mr. Popham said.
The base has an active commercial forest program and the timber is sold and that money is used to make improvements to other base forest areas. The base recently teamed with the Army Corps of Engineers to harvest more than 50 acres of commercial timber of which about 10 acres were where the new education center is being built at the corner of Vandenberg Blvd and Hwy 67/167. This project saved the base at least $50 thousand in land clearing costs.
The base will now compete for an Air Force level award. The award honors General Thomas D. White, Air Force Chief of Staff from 1957 to 1961, who charted the course for Air Force environmental programs. The purpose of the award is to promote excellence in every aspect of Air Force natural resources conservation programs, and is designed to recognize the efforts of installations for conservation of natural resources.