When Steve Warren started working for the U.S. Army nearly 23 years ago, he discovered that between three and 18 times more endangered species live on Department of Defense Training land at any given time than on any other federal land management agency, including the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
He said the environmental dynamic is bizarre because of the invasive nature of military operations in the areas — one wouldn’t expect training lands to be a haven for endangered species.
“There are a great biodiversity and a great abundance of threatened and endangered species on the military training areas because of the training, not despite of it,” Warren said.
Warren, now the director of a military environmental management arm of CSU, is trying to answer a question that has plagued him since he started working for the Army: “The military is creating such devastation; how is it possible that there are so many threatened and endangered species there?”
Two recent studies by Warren showed that endangered grasshoppers, tiger beetles, natterjack and yellow-belly toads displayed an affinity for highly disturbed areas on the military training lands in Hohenfels, Germany.
Warren and his colleagues researched the training facilities in Germany in support of his “Heterogeneous Disturbance Hypothesis,” which suggests the more disturbances in an area, the more niches for habitation.
Due to the nature of military training, areas that would otherwise not be traveled over with vehicles are uprooted to simulate combat situations.
“A tank is 70 tons, and if you run over something with a tank, there’s not going to be anything left,” military sciences professor Lt. Col. Andrew Groeger said. “In the large scale, it may not seem like a lot of damage, but if you’re an animal, it’s a lot of damage.”
Military training facilities foster a variety of habitats, ranging from untouched to disturbed, where many threatened and endangered animals can survive.
“Each species keys in to a certain condition,” Warren said. “There’s some [species] that love pristine, there are some critters that love beat to heck. Other organisms — plants, animals — key in to every position along that continuum.”
Warren finds that unnatural disturbances cause by the tanks, fires, and other results of military presence often replace natural disturbances, while other areas remain unaffected by these disturbances.
“Because military training areas have that entire continuum . there’s a place for everybody,” Warren said. “That’s a condition that you don’t find on many other properties anywhere in the world.”
Such a concept seems to be against the logic of many, Warren said.
“Over the years, we as human beings don’t like disturbance. We think it’s ugly, we think it’s harmful, we think it’s bad,” Warren said. “What we don’t realize is that some forms of disturbance are natural.”
Much of the maneuvering done by the U.S. military in Germany has been confined to the small area in Hohenfels, Greoger said, to protect the environment.
“That in and of itself is a large effort to preserve the environment, to save the land, and to save endangered species,” Groeger said. “Even within Hohenfels there are areas that we are not allowed to maneuver because of wildlife.”
Warren cited many natural disasters, including fires, floods, earthquakes, and animal trampling, that many think harm the environment and therefore try to minimize.
“Once we find an area that we think ‘Hey, this is natural’, we put it off limits and we protect it,” Warren said. “We as humans have created a very unnatural environment by limiting the amount of natural disturbance that can take place.”
Army Operations in Germany controversial
The U.S. has many military training areas in Europe, especially in Germany.
Legislation within the European Union mandates that each member state must designate special areas of conservation for flora and fauna.
According to Warren, due to the high amount of animal and plant diversity on military bases, countries are designating these lands as part of the European Union Habitat Directive.
Warren said 77 percent of U.S. military training areas in Europe have been designated for the Natura 2000 program, which according to the Natura 2000 Web site, was adopted by the European Union to protect seriously threatened habitats and species across Europe.
Because some countries in Europe, according to Warren, do not want a U.S. presence, biodiversity could be affected.
“There are people in Germany who want the U.S. to pull out,” Warren said in a phone interview.
Warren added that if the U.S. pulled out, it could cause biodiversity to plummet on military training areas.
But Groeger disagrees that the Germans want the U.S. to pull out, but said the military training land has decreased since the end of the Cold War.
“Decades ago, there was a lot more freedom of maneuver,” Groeger said. “After the Cold War, the maneuver area became really restricted.”
Staff writer Johnny Hart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.