DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah — The U.S. Army has long recognized that to sustain critical defense testing and operations it must have a safe, strictly compliant, cost-effective and workable environmental management plan to meet its mission. Those environmental priorities are all found in the Army Strategy for the Environment, written in 2004, that establishes a long-range vision of sustainability enabling the Army to meet its mission today and into the future.
The Environmental Programs Division at U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground is responsible for the environmental safety, compliance, protection, conservation and restoration of the test center’s nearly 800,000 acres of test range and infrastructure as it conducts a critical chemical and biological defense mission for the nation.
Jason Reed, chief of the Environmental Programs Division, said his team of experienced professionals plays an “integral part of the installations’ environmental defense mission” and oversees compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.
NEPA’s basic policy is to assure that all branches of government give proper consideration prior to undertaking any federal action that significantly affects the environment and promote accountability for government decisions that affect the environment in our nation’s communities.
The Environmental Programs Division is part of the U.S. Army Garrison Directorate of Public Works and has two branches, the Conservation Management Branch and the Compliance Branch, working in tandem to manage and implement environmental programs.
The Conservation Management Branch is composed of a geographer, archaeologists and wildlife biologists who respectively manage Geographic Information System (GIS) support, Cultural Resources and Natural Resources for the installation.
The Compliance Branch includes regulatory, air quality, water treatment, drinking water quality, recycling management, landfill, military munitions, restoration, and pest control specialists who ensure compliance with the laws and regulations in each of their areas of expertise.
The environmental team members emphasize there are a many local and national government Acts that facilitate and support Dugway’s environmental program and activities, such as The Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Sikes Act, the Antiquities Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, just to name a few.
Both the conservation and the compliance branch owe much of their understanding of Army strategy and environmental stewardship to the Sikes Act. This act, named for World War I flying Ace Bob Sikes who also chaired a Congressional House appropriations committee that now guides military environmental programs, promotes initiative and decision making and mandates cooperation between the Defense Department, the military services and state agencies to protect natural resources on military installations.
Another beneficial program used along with the Sikes Act is the Army Sustainable Range Program. Together they guide the land management practices that sustain long-term viability and utility of Army ranges and training lands to meet National Defense mission requirements.
Dugway’s environmental team also understands the need to conserve environmental resources for the future through preservation and restoration while protecting the health of the workforce and public.
“The Army Sustainable Range program directs a great deal of what we do here at Dugway to protect the environment,” said Robbie Knight, a wildlife biologist for the team.
“Organizations that come here to test or train will need the land, air and water resources necessary to successfully meet their test and training requirements,” Knight stressed. “It’s critical that these natural ecosystems remain intact and are ready for testing and training in the years to come.”
A good example of this is Dugway’s fire restoration project. A recent wildfire on the installation has left the area devoid of shrubbery and natural grasses.
“When our natural ecosystems are damaged by fire or other impacts, we work to restore them through reseeding with a seed mix of mostly native plant seed depending on the area being restored,” said Keeli Marvel, a natural resource specialist for the team. “The restoration goals may include non-native, but beneficial species that serve a few different purposes to both out-compete the undesirable weed species and serve as a place holder to give the native species a chance to gain a toe-hold.”
“Our long-term plan is to maintain healthy, sustainable, resilient ecosystems,” Marvel added.
“Our mission is not just about protecting the environment, but it’s about also about protecting human health,” Reed said. “All aspects associated with clean air, water, solid and hazardous waste can have enormous human health risks. Mitigating any issues by following established regulations ensures we’re not putting the workforce or the public at risk.”
It is no small task to ensure that tens of thousands of acres of natural ecosystems, from vast salt flats to enormous stretches of natural grasses and salt brush to the rugged rock mountains of Dugway Proving Ground, comply with the Army Strategy for the Environment.
These challenges motivate Reed and his team of environmental specialists to act.
“Finding ways to help Dugway and the Army protect and sustain the environment is exciting work and we are motivated everyday as we partner in the field with our test officers and leaders,” said Reed. “The work is challenging, but well worth the effort.”