Fort Stewart Benefits from New NRCS Programs

Fort Stewart Benefits from New NRCS Programs

By Randy Tate, The Longleaf Alliance

Fort Stewart’s longleaf pines were the backdrop for an announcement by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack on Feb 12, 2016. Secretary Vilsack was announcing the recipients of the second round of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), created in the 2014 Farm Bill.  Fort Stewart was a fitting backdrop since it will directly benefit from the program.  The USDA will team with several conservation groups to protect acres outside the base to keep them as woodlands and not subdivisions. That will help the Army units keep doing what they’re doing on base. Secretary Vilsack said, referring to the new program for Fort Stewart, “At the same time, it is also going to protect habitat. It’s going to make sure the Defense Department doesn’t have to deal with endangered species challenges.”

Fort Stewart is the largest Army installation east of the Mississippi, at 279,270 acres. It has a variety of longleaf pine habitat from sandhills to flatwoods. It has the largest population of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in Georgia and the fifth largest in the Southeast. There are also healthy populations of Eastern indigo snakes and gopher tortoises.  It is also home to five other endangered species. Management at Fort Stewart is centered on the inherent compatibility of what good longleaf habitat looks like and what’s best suited for military training, an open park-like forest. In the 1990s, the installation stepped up its thinning and burning efforts, and the results are evident. The base is the anchor site for the Fort Stewart/Altamaha Significant Geographic Area.

Fort Stewart has the largest prescribed burning program in North America, burning on average 120,000 acres per year. An impressive 80,000 acres are burned in the growing season. It has an active groundcover restoration program, collecting and planting wiregrass seed annually.

Image 1:  Secretary Vilsack announcing the recipients of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program.  Photo by Randy Tate.