STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Can tanks and turtles coexist in peace? Jeanne Jones believes they can, and she's proving it.
Since 1987, the assistant professor of wildlife and fisheries at Mississippi State University and graduate students under her direction have worked with the Mississippi Army National Guard to prepare and put into use long-range ecosystem management plans.
Jones' initial work was at Camp Shelby, the National Guard's sprawling 136,000-acre facility near Hattiesburg, Miss., used for tank, artillery and other training.
"More than 80,000 people train at Camp Shelby during the summer and the tanks and other vehicles used in that training tear up a lot of ground," she said. "Come August, they have a lot of bare ground to reclaim."
Erosion control is a primary focus of the Mississippi State effort on the base, but Jones and her students also have enhanced the wildlife habitat at the military training facilities.
"We were initially contacted about helping with erosion control plantings," she said. "We put in extensive field testing plots with various plantings, including wildlife food plants such as clovers, ryegrass and vetch."
As a result of the research, seed mixtures of white and crimson clover, hairy vetch and ryegrass are being used in the training areas. In addition to providing erosion control, the plantings enhance the habitat for rabbits, deer, wild turkey, and other wildlife.
Working with the U.S. Forest Service, the private Nature Conservancy and other cooperators, Jones and her students also have established an ecosystem management plan at Camp Shelby that is helping restore and protect pitcher-plant wetlands, longleaf pine forests and innumerable streams. All are habitats for protected plants and animals.
"Currently, there are 77 state or federally protected plants and animals that call Camp Shelby home, including the gopher tortoise," Jones said. "One interesting thing we have found is that the frequent fires associated with the camp's artillery firing improve the habitat for some species, including gopher tortoises and pitcher plants."
A bonus of the work for Mississippi's hunters is the improved habitat for deer, wild turkey and other game birds and animals in the buffer zones that separate the training areas from the surrounding countryside.
In addition to Camp Shelby, Jones said the MSU team has developed erosion control, wildlife habitat management and ecosystem management plans at Camp McCain, the National Guard's 13,000-acre training site near Grenada.
The university's involvement has helped the military accomplish its training mission while protecting the environment, according to Lt. Col. Robert Piazza of National Guard headquarters in Jackson.
"Our main objective is to train troops, but we also have to manage natural resources and be good stewards of the land," he said. "That's what we're trying to do through the work with MSU."
The success of the work by MSU scientists has prompted requests for assistance from other military facilities. One of the latest is U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala.
"The Redstone project began in 1998," Jones said. "The military reservation contains almost 38,000 acres and is home to a high diversity of waterfowl, mammals and non-game birds in bottomland hardwood forests and forested wetlands."
Another recent addition to the military ecosystem project is the almost 10,000 acres at the Meridian Naval Air Station. The Navy has had a conservation plan in effect for several years, but there was no indication of just how successful the conservation effort was until last year when MSU doctoral student Jimmy Taylor of Amory conducted an inventory of the various species.
"He found a tremendous variety of small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, especially in the base's wetland areas," Jones said. "One of the most exciting finds at Meridian is the breeding colonies of several salamander species. The Navy has been doing a good job of protecting the environment at the Meridian base, but they didn't know how good a job they were doing until we conducted these surveys."
Current projects are expected to continue for several years, with the MSU scientists continuing to seek a balance between ecosystem management and effective military training operations.
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