The NTC is not only the best military training facility in the world, unequivocally, it is a world leader in protecting the environment and the endangered species that thrive within its boundaries. Fort Irwin is home not only to great Soldiers, Family Members, Department of the Army Civilians, and Contractors, it is also home to Gopherus Agassizii: the Desert Tortoise.Â For over a decade, NTC has committed considerable resources to maintaining the environment as well as funding endangered species studies within its boundaries, by way of example: over $70 million dollars has been spent and hundreds of man hours expended ensuring the harmonious balance between military training and the protection of the desert tortoise.
The NTC continues its worldwide leadership as a good environmental steward by engaging in a collaborative effort with the Pennsylvania State University and the US Geological Survey in conducting further Desert Tortoise research ensuring the protection, survivability, and restoration of species.Â In early June 2012, 54 Desert Tortoises (DTs) were moved from the NTCâ€™s Southern Corridor to pens in the Western Expansion Area (WEA) for research purposes.Â This move will result in a win – win situation for the High Desert Environmental Community, DT researchers worldwide, and 54 DTs.
The 54 DTs were moved from the UTM 90, temporarily, to a controlled situation where they will be studied for approximately 2 years, under a National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant, by the Pennsylvania State University and the US Geological Survey.Â The study looks at the effects of translocation on the health of the desert tortoise. Translocation has been viewed as a useful conservation measure in order to reduce the impact ofÂ land development on the desert tortoise species as well as its habitat.Â Although tortoises may be removed from harmâ€™s way at developmental sites, this action may negatively impact the host populations of tortoises at the receptor / release sites. Carefully designed and meticulously executed research projects funded by the US Army in association with the NTC Land Expansion Project have demonstrated that translocation does not cause a higher risk factor to the species because of physiological stress due to translocation or by predators, jeopardizing its existence /Â survivability at a new location. The ramifications of disease and epidemiology in relation to translocation of the desert tortoise species has not been analyzed or studied in great detail.
Clearly, High Mojave Environmental Groups as well as federal and state environmental agencies have long been concerned regarding the effects of military training at the NTC on the desert tortoise and its critical habitat.
Since 2000, the US Army has committed $77 Mil to desert tortoise protection and conservation measures. Specifically, the US Army has funded the following:
- The Development of DT Translocation Plans
- Periodic Health Screening (Blood Checks for the Presence of Disease)
- Desert Tortoise Dispersion / Redistribution Study
- Desert Tortoise Reproductive Output Study
- Desert Tortoise Genetics Study
- Desert Tortoise Microhabitat / Burrow Use Study
- Study on Relationship between Desert Tortoise Density and Vegetation
- Development of a Desert Tortoise Habitat Model
- Fencing (DT Fencing: NTC Boundaries, along Ft Irwin Road & Interstate 15)
- Site Improvements / Route Closures
- Analysis of Multiple Desert Tortoise Survey Protocols
- Environmental Baseline Studies
- Purchase of Mitigation Lands
- BLM Rangers (X2)
- FWS Biologists (X2)
A secondary effect of this tortoise movement is that 23,000 (+) training acres will now be available for military training.Â The expanded Southern Corridor will allow for employment of more robust and realistic training scenarios enabling Rotational Training Units (RTUs) to better prepare for Combined Arms Maneuver (CAM), Wide Area Security (WAS), and Counter Insurgency (COIN) missions.
As the Army transitions from CounterÂ Insurgency (COIN) centric military operationsÂ to Decisive Action operations, the NTC can look back with pride on this desert tortoise movement, and subsequent study as a critical event in maintaining the complex and dynamic nature of the NTC training environment while maintaining a balance with our environment.