JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – While Earth Day focuses worldwide attention on environmental issues every April, a diverse team of Air Force professionals are protecting the environment and assuring mission success every day.
The Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s environmental and Base Realignment and Closure teams are helping preserve the Air Force’s natural infrastructure across nine million acres of land, including forest, prairies, deserts, and coastal habitat through its headquarters at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and installation support sections across the U.S.
“Earth Day offers us an opportunity to reflect on what we are doing to care for the planet. Conserving our natural resources is vital to meeting todays missions – and preserving our environment for tomorrows mission operations,” said Judy Lopez, AFCEC Environmental Management Director. “For 75 years the Air Force has been constantly adapting innovative solutions to meet everchanging environmental needs.”
From restoring environment impacted by Air Force mission activities, to protecting endangered species and cultural and natural resources, to ensuring compliance with state and federal laws and regulations, Air Force stewardship of the environment is expansive. As the execution agents for the Air Force, AFCEC has a role in virtually every aspect of environmental management, including leading restoration efforts at active and closed installations and ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements. For example, since 2010, AFCEC has awarded about $1.3 billion in performance-based contracts to address restoration needs at various active installations.
Environmental restoration doesn’t stop when a base closes. At closed installations, the BRAC team oversees restoration and cleanup at 40 installations closed by federal legislation since 1988. Often, transferring property back to the community means addressing environmental issues so the property is usable for community needs. To date, BRAC has transferred more than 87,000 acres, or 100% of the property at 35 installations, with about 1,900 acres left to go. The BRAC team was recognized for their hard work and innovative thinking with a 2021 Department of Defense National Federal Facility Excellence in Site Reuse Award at Former Griffiss AFB, NY.
“We are here for the long run doing whatever it takes to protect human health and the environment,” said Dr. Stephen TerMaath, AFCEC BRAC Program chief. "Our restoration mission doesn't stop when the installation closes, we continue our environmental responsibilities even after the property is transferred.”
With AFCEC’s support, Air Force installation natural resources teams sustain bio-diverse habitats for 123 threatened and endangered species at 54 bases. Eglin AFB, Fla., recently received the 2021 DoD Environmental Award for Natural Resources Conservation at large installations for their four-pronged approach gopher tortoise conservation.
“Eglin’s natural resources team moved to the installation more than 2,300 gopher tortoises displaced across Florida due to alternative energy production. The goal is to receive 6,000 tortoises by 2023,” said Karla Meyer, Air Force natural resources subject matter expert at AFCEC.
When Air Force construction and mission activities encroach on these habitats, the National Environmental Policy Act division conducts Environmental Impact Statements to ensure the installations are in compliance with federal and state regulations. Often times Environmental Assessments need to be done in difficult terrain and without disrupting the natural surroundings.
Guided by the AFIMSC enterprise goal of accelerating change through innovation, AFCEC is testing small unmanned aerial systems to improve land surveys, floodplain mapping, vegetation classification, or endangered species and woodland management. This technology could save the Air Force millions of dollars and countless hours of labor, freeing up funds and resources for other projects.
“AFCEC funds environmental projects to cultivate population growth for threatened and endangered species,” Meyer said. “If we’re not in compliance with the Endangered Species Act we can’t execute our missions.”
On Earth Day, and every day, the AFCEC team works to encourage and grow the partnerships that will sustain environmental health and Air Force mission success for many years to come.
"We have great things happening all over the country because of our environmental partnering efforts, but we still have a lot more to do," said Kenny Johnson, AFCEC Restoration and Clean Up Division chief. "We will continue to rekindle and create new partnerships so that together we can protect and sustain our natural resources."