Fort Custer Training Center | Natural Resources Management
Envirologic has provided numerous ecological services to the environmental staff at the Fort Custer Training Center (FCTC) since 1998 in order to assist with efforts to manage and monitor natural resources. The FCTC encompasses approximately 7,500 acres, of which about 2,500 acres are semi-improved and about 5,000 acres are unimproved. The Range and Training Land Assessment (RTLA) is used as a way to collect and analyze land conditions to support sustainable land management decisions related to training mission requirements including shooting practice, tactical training, light personnel vehicle convoy training, and land navigation.
There are 30 RTLA plots scattered throughout the FCTC. Envirologic helped to establish the permanent 100-meter long plots and samples each plot on a regular basis. Most plot locations were selected at random to provide an unbiased assessment in the different habitat types found on the base. Other plots were specifically located to provide data near sensitive or unique habitats like fens and prairies. At each plot, a variety of attributes are measured and recorded. Photo-monitoring is used to provide qualitative observations at each plot over time. Other simple observations of land use or land management efforts and the impact they may have on vegetation or soil erosion are noted. Vegetation data collected looks at the overstory, understory, and herbaceous layers. These data can be used to track vegetation regrowth and recruitment of seedlings and saplings in response to environmental conditions and habitat management efforts. Floristic Quality Assessments (FQAs) are conducted either as meander surveys of an area or discrete subplots on a transect. The data collected are periodically summarized and provided to FCTC environmental staff in brief reports.
FQAs have also been conducted on several timber harvest areas at FCTC. The purpose of the surveys was to evaluate the response of vegetation after a timber harvest was complete. Data collected by Envirologic demonstrated that the biodiversity after the harvest returned to levels similar to those before the harvest, but that invasive species like multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) and common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) often increased to a density that negatively affects training.
The FCTC environmental staff also use prescribed burns as a tool to manage habitat at the base. Some burns are conducted with specific goals, such as controlling vegetation succession at prairie restoration sites or recreating prairie habitat suitable for training purposes. The prescribed burns can also be used for more general purposes, such as control of non-native invasive species. The efficacy of these burns to achieve the desired goals can be evaluated using the data Envirologic collects at a separate set of plots established in 2014. The purpose of the plots is to track the response of problematic vegetation, both native and non-native, to prescribed burns. Several thorny species have been identified by military trainers as a problem for a variety of training uses. Envirologic makes recommendations to the FCTC staff regarding habitat management based on the data collected and observations made.