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Preston County’s Camp Dawson wins Secretary of Defense Environmental Award

When you think of work done at military installations, things like keeping tabs on a base’s population of regionally declining Allegheny woodrats, conducting surveys for endangered bats and building a half-mile boardwalk to provide access and educational information on a wetland complex don’t immediately come to mind.

But those and many other environment-oriented projects are a part of the work being done at Camp Dawson, the West Virginia National Guard’s premier training center. Last month, the Preston County base received the 2016 Secretary of Defense Environmental Award after being judged to be among the nation’s top nine earth-friendly military installations. Dawson was named the top small military installation for achieving natural resources conservation goals. All nine of the winning installations were cited for exceptional environmental achievement and innovative cost-effective environmental practices.

What began in 1909 as a 196-acre summer training camp along the Cheat River for the West Virginia National Guard has since become a 4,000-acre, year-round, state-of-the-art training center that annually serves 130,000 active duty and reserve military personnel from all branches of service and all parts of the nation.

After being used to train troops for combat in World War I and house Axis prisoners of war in World War II, Camp Dawson, following a building boom that began in the 1980s, now encompasses West Virginia’s second-largest hotel and conference center, a $10 million gym facility and Olympic pool, several live fire ranges, drop zones and helicopter landing zones, a demolition range, a live-fire shoot house, an airstrip, combat simulators and an abundance of rugged mountain terrain for field maneuver exercises.

Keeping the West Virginia National Guard’s largest, most heavily used and fastest expanding training site earth-friendly has been a challenge, but Camp Dawson’s four-person Natural Resource Conservation team has lived up to it.

“We are honored to have received the award, considering the excellence of the other programs that we were being judged against,” said Rick Chaney, who manages Camp Dawson’s natural resources conservation program. “To be recognized at the Secretary of the Army level was very rewarding, but to then be recognized at the Secretary of Defense level provides a sense of validation for the work that our team completes.”

“Our men and women work hard to keep environmental stewardship a top priority while simultaneously advancing our national defense mission,” said Under-Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall, in a statement announcing Dawson’s environmental achievement award. Those efforts, Kendall said, “foster a special type of innovation worthy of national recognition.”

During the 2015 fiscal year, the DOD spent $3.8 billion for its environmental programs, which include contamination cleanup from past activities, compliance with environmental laws, protection of natural and cultural resources and research and development to find ways to minimize environmental impact.

During the past two years, Chaney and his all-civilian staff, which includes a natural resources manager, a GIS specialist, a conservation specialist who is also a registered forester and a paid WVU intern, have completed projects that include:

n A new pond adjacent to a new firing range to provide water for firefighting use and to create fishing opportunities for base users. Much of the excavation work was performed by National Guard engineering units.

n A half-mile-long boardwalk with a 650-square-foot deck, a picnic area and interpretive signs at a wetland area.

n Restoring a native grassland at a 100-acre former strip mine site where new drop zones and bivouac areas were being built.

n Building limestone channels to treat acid mine drainage in creeks that drain into the Cheat River.

n Using prescribed burns, conducted by Chaney’s trained wildfire-fighting staff, to reduce forest fire fuel loads and improve native grasslands.

n A bat survey using mist-netting and acoustic technology to track population changes.

n Annual population and health surveys of regionally declining Allegheny woodrats, which have a strong presence on the base.

n Working with the Division of Natural Resources and WVU to net and take DNA samples from golden-winged warblers to track the songbirds’ hybridization with blue-winged warblers.

n Maintaining bait sites and remote cameras for annual golden eagle population surveys.

n Protecting and monitoring a small patch of endangered running buffalo clover on the base, which appears to be expanding.

By working in cooperation with state and federal agencies, encouraging volunteers and combining construction projects with National Guard training exercises whenever possible, Dawson’s Natural Resource Conservation Team is able to make DOD dollars go farther and cover more environmental solutions, Kendall said.

“We are fortunate to have a team with versatile and varied expertise,” Chaney said. “Most of our team is equally comfortable executing field surveys or working a track loader or chainsaw as they are working spreadsheets or administrating contracts.”

Other installations cited by the Secretary of Defense for environmental achievement were the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, California; the Army’s Fort McCoy near Sparta, Wisconsin; Eglin Air Force Base in Florida; the Marine Corps Support Facility at Blount Island, Florida; Beale Air Force Base in California; the restoration team for the former Vieques Naval Installation in Puerto Rico; the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico; and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base at Dayton, Ohio.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169, or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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