Fort McCoy News Sept. 22, 2017

National Public Lands Day: Natural-resources team

ensures stewardship of post lands

STORY & PHOTOS BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

As stewards of nearly 60,000 acres of public land at Fort McCoy, the installation team has a big job ensuring that land is sustainable and vibrant for future generations. Helping lead that stewardship effort is the team with the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch (NRB).

The NRB team includes an endangered-species biologist, forester, forestry technician, fisheries biologist, wildlife biologist, wildlife technician, and the NRB chief. The branch fosters stewardship of natural and cultural resources to support and sustain a realistic military-training environment, biological diversity, the integrity of sensitive or unique sites, and commercial and recreational opportunities, said NRB Chief Mark McCarty.

Zach Woiak (left) and Steve Rood, both contracted watershed management specialists supporting the Directorate of Public Works Natural Resources Branch, take measurements as part of a water and stream survey along Stillwell Creek on Fort McCoy’s South Post.
Zach Woiak (left) and Steve Rood, both contracted watershed
management specialists supporting the Directorate of Public Works
Natural Resources Branch, take measurements as part of a water and
stream survey along Stillwell Creek on Fort McCoy's South Post.

"We also wouldn't be able to complete our mission without the steadfast assistance from our partners at the Center of Environmental Management of Military Lands of Colorado State University (CSU)," McCoy said. "The CSU team has been supporting the NRB and Fort McCoy for over 25 years and should be recognized as they are the action element, our 'heavy lifters' in getting the natural and cultural resources field work done. We have a relatively small government staff so we lean heavily on the Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit agreement that we have with them to complete our mission."

Most of the team members have worked together for more than 20 years, McCarty said.

"Only (Wildlife Technician) Zach (Millbrand) has been on the job less than the rest, but he's still a great part of this team," McCarty said. "When you bring that much experience and cohesion to the table doing a job that you love, great things happen."

On Sept. 30, America celebrates National Public Lands Day. The observance is a signature event of the National Environmental Education Foundation and promotes both popular enjoyment and volunteer conservation of public lands.

McCarty said his team is behind many aspects of supporting enjoyment of the installation's many acres.

"We are entrusted to be the stewards of the public land here at McCoy, and we know what a huge responsibility that is," McCarty said. "We work, plan, and implement measures all the time to better the land here for the future. We see our main mission as maintaining the land in support of the military mission now and in the future. We need to do that at the same time we are being good stewards of the natural and cultural resources found on the installation. This can be challenging but that is part of what makes our jobs so interesting."

In the past year, many improvements have been made by the team for Fort McCoy. For example, earlier in the year, the NRB worked in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to have the West Silver Wetland Dam removed from Silver Creek on South Post.

Fisheries Biologist John Noble said the project included removing the entire dam structure, managing sedimentation built up by the dam, and recycling all the concrete.

Forestry Technician Charles Mentzel completes forestry work at a forested area on Fort McCoy’s North Post.
Forestry Technician Charles Mentzel completes forestry work at a
forested area on Fort McCoy's North Post.

"Now with the dam removed, we were able to re-establish a fish passage and plan to enhance fish habitat," Noble said. "The stream is better, and will continue to improve when the floodplain area is widened to allow floodwater access into remnant ponds and supporting wetlands. Overall, we expect this to be a great improvement for our fisheries management, our stream and fisheries quality, and for our environment at Fort McCoy."

Similarly, work by the team also includes care for endangered species, which is led by Biologist Tim Wilder. During the past summer, Wilder has worked with researchers from the USFWS and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to complete bee surveys searching for the endangered rusty-patched bumblebee.

Wilder himself found one of the bees at an area on South Post in early August. The work to protect the bee, as well as other endangered species at Fort McCoy, is vital to the overall management of the post's public lands.

"This installation and the military training activities that have occurred on the landscape for the past 100-plus years, and the 50-plus years of natural-resources management has provided habitat for many rare and endangered species," Wilder said.

And most of the lands at the installation are forested. That's where Forester Jim Kerkman and Forestry Technician Charles Mentzel play a big role in keeping the forests healthy.

"Forestry management is a year-round process at the installation," Kerkman said. "The Forestry Office initiates and manages timber sales, completes prescribed burns to reduce fire dangers, and maintains a forestry inventory.

"Fort McCoy's public lands are not used just for military training," he said. "We also have the general public that uses the land for activities, such hunting, fishing, camping, and more. Taking care of our public land is important because it's part of a public trust. American taxpayers own public land, so it's our job to make sure it's managed well so future generations can enjoy it."

Wildlife Biologist David Beckmann plays a key role in managing the deer herd so the public archery and firearm-deer hunting seasons at the post can always be as good as possible. Beckmann cited how the NRB team keeps watch over winter to see deer are surviving and what they learn is implemented into future management practices.

"Winter is often the toughest season on Fort McCoy's deer herd, so monitoring how the herd is dealing with winter conditions is crucial to the herd's survivability," Beckmann said. "Our over-winter deer population goal is to have 20 to 25 deer per square mile of winter habitat, which includes approximately 73 square miles of forested habitat at Fort McCoy. We use the winter population goal because winter conditions have the biggest impact on deer survival and reproduction. Populations over winter can deplete food and cover and impact forest regeneration and production, which could affect other wildlife species."

McCarty added that public land management at Fort McCoy also involves tracking its cultural resources. For more than 30 years, the installation has overseen continuous archaeological work, which has built a huge understanding of the installation's military and ancient history.

In June and July, an archaeological team led by Colorado State University's Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands, under contract with Fort McCoy, completed the first phase III archaeological dig ever to take place at the installation.

Alexander Woods, Ph.D. and archaeologist with CSU, said the dig uncovered artifacts that are thousands of years old.

"This dig helped us understand bigger questions we had from earlier surveys," Woods said. "This wasn't an earth-shattering site in terms of the sheer number of artifacts, but it was a nice dig site (on South Post)."

There are many, many more examples of work to improve Fort McCoy's public lands by everyone at Fort McCoy, McCarty said. His team, he said, is happy to have a part in preserving the land and to be a part of that effort.

"Whether you come out here for hunting, for nature walks, for military training, or to go fishing, you will see that we have some of the nicest areas around," McCarty said.

For more information about the NRB, call 608-388-2252. Learn more about Fort McCoy online at www.mccoy.army.mil, on Facebook by searching "ftmccoy," and on Twitter by searching "usagmccoy."