Article and photos by Airman 1st Class Scott Poe
Roaming through the woods, checking out the vegetation and wildlife on base, or hanging out on top of building 450 watching the Interior Least Terns, are a couple places you may find James Popham.
Popham, the 19th Civil Engineer Squadron natural resources manager, has been a roving ambassador for the woods and wildlife at Little Rock Air Force Base for almost 20 years.
As an enlisted Airman, Popham held numerous jobs that were heavily involved with animals and natural resources. He started his military journey as a veterinary technician. He then became a laboratory animal technician at Brooks AFB, Texas.
After six years enlisted in the Air Force, Popham went to Texas A&M University to finish his degree in wildlife management. Popham worked for the Soil Conservation Service before deciding to come back to the Air Force as an officer.
After a combine total of over 20 years in the Air Force including time in the reserves, he took an early retirement in 1994. Six months later he came to Little Rock AFB to become the natural resources manager.
“I have always been interested in all kinds of wildlife,” said Popham. “When I was a kid growing up I spent a lot of time outdoors exploring the woods around our neighborhood.”
Popham now manages all the forestry on base including urban and commercial forestry. He reviews all construction plans to make sure they don’t interfere with endangered or threatened species and other natural resources.
“I became a wildlife biologist because I love the great outdoors and all the plants and animals,” said Popham. “I want to protect and conserve this fantastic beauty for all generations.”
He works with soil and water conservation, as well as noise pollution. He helps manage pesticides and then evaluates the impacts pesticides have on the base ecosystem.
The hunting and fishing programs on base are also Popham’s work. Currently he is preparing to do a deer census in the fall to track the population growth of the deer herd at Little Rock AFB.
Popham dictates when to conduct prescribed burns and tries to keep them on a seven-year cycle. This helps clear built up debris such as leaves and fallen branches. It also promotes healthy undergrowth.
His hobbies are probably exactly what you would expect. He likes to spend a lot of time outdoors by riding bikes, hiking and bird watching. His other passion is his family. He loves spending time with his kids and grandkids as well as traveling.
Popham said he is a very busy man. He manages all the natural resource programs on base including land management, fish and wildlife management, and soil and water conservation.
“My job is important because I help protect the precious natural resources our nation entrusted us with on base, which allows us to enable premier combat airlift,” said Popham.
Part of his repertoire is also handling delicate cultural resources. These include historical and archeological resources as well as consulting with Native American tribes affiliated with the base.
Even after serving in the Air Force for more than 20 years and nearly 20 years here at Little Rock AFB, he shows no signs of slowing down or retiring.
“I think I’m still too young to retire and I’m not rich enough to retire,” said Popham. “I just enjoy what I am doing.”
Popham recently won the 19th Airlift Wing’s Civilian Category II quarterly award for his outstanding dedication and contributions to the Team Little Rock community.