Habitat restoration and invasive species

  • Published
  • By Airman Hiram Martinez
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Today we’re focused on making sure there is a tomorrow for all of us. In order to maintain a healthy environment, it must be sustained adequately. The U.S. Air Force has installations across the entire world, from Texas to Japan, California to Qatar, and Hawaii to Greenland. It has now become a vital part of our mission to work without negatively impacting the ecosystems we find ourselves in.

MacDill Air Force Base is located in the Interbay Peninsula outside the city of Tampa and has an “…incredibly diverse amount of plant and wildlife, according to  Brendan Myers, a member of the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron’s (CES) environmental team here at MacDill AFB.

Members of the 6th CES are concerned with the endangered species list associated with the Endangered Species Act, and the State of Florida threatened and endangered species list. MacDill AFB is home to several federally protected wildlife species including: wood storks, red knots, piping plovers, Florida burrowing owls, smalltooth sawfish, giant manta rays, Florida manatees, and American alligators.

“One of the most important protected species found at MacDill AFB is the gopher tortoise,” Myers said. It is a candidate for the federal Endangered Species Act and is listed as threatened within the state of Florida.

Another protected species found at MacDill is the iconic bald eagle. This bird is federally protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940 and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

“There are currently two known active bald eagle nests located at MacDill AFB,” said Myers.  “One is within the Munitions Storage Area and the other is located near the [Child Development Center].  We advise members help to reduce human-wildlife interactions by not approaching their nest tree and staying on the established sidewalks and walking paths.”

Currently, MacDill AFB does not have any species of federally listed plants. However, according to Myers the state of Florida is sometimes known as the ‘epicenter’ of invasive and non-native plant species. Some invasive and non-native species found at MacDill AFB include: Brazilian pepper, cogon grass, lantana, hydrilla, lead tree, and rosary pea.  Some of these species have been identified in the MacDill AFB Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan

In order to combat these invasive plant species, MacDill AFB has an invasive plant treatment program administered through the 6th CES Environmental Element. “These invasive plant treatments focus on the natural areas located throughout the base and help to treat the invasive plant species listed above and more, Myers said. “Some of these include herbicide treatments, mowing, and the mechanical removal of large swaths of invasive plant species.”  

MacDill AFB has also practiced habitat restoration through the Stormwater Improvement and Management project in the southeastern portion of the base, as well as the creation of a saltern habitat in the southern portion of the base; a habitat that is important to conserve throughout the Tampa Bay estuary. 

These habitat restoration efforts have improved the water quality around MacDill AFB and helped maintain the small population of gopher tortoises and Florida burrowing owls.  Individuals on base can see wood storks, roseate spoonbills, little blue herons, and several other Florida state and federally-protected species. “The restoration projects and invasive species treatments help to provide suitable foraging and roosting habitat for these species,” Myers said.

The 6th CES Environmental Element routinely sends out public service announcements about conservation volunteer events on base. “One of the best things that civilians and airmen can do is to practice Leave No Trace principles throughout the natural areas on base and take that extra moment to pick up that piece of trash you see, Myers advises.

MacDill AFB is truly a unique assignment located in a very unique environment. One that is rich in wildlife and plant diversity that must be taken proper care of. Service members and civilians alike, it is our responsibility to help sustain and protect the wildlife and plant life found here in our home.