Youngsters in U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart will learn how to care for the earth during the April 22 Earth Day Expo 2010 at the Stuttgart Army Air Field.
However, protecting nature isn’t new to the garrison. USAG Stuttgart organizations have worked to preserve the local training area for half a century.
Besides being a training site, the LTA hosts a variety of endangered plants and animals, according to Inga Gebhard, environmental conservation specialist for the USAG Stuttgart Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division.
Last year, the garrison spent $100,000 from funds allocated for conservation to protect the LTA environment, Gebhard said.
Under DPW’s Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan, garrison officials consider land use, military training requirements, natural resources and protection when planning development projects, she added.
In other words, they focus on preserving the environment, while not interfering with training.
The LTA has many types of land — highlands, lowlands, ponds, raw sand, grassland and forest — as a result of U.S. Army tank maneuver training following World War II, Gebhard said.
“The disturbance of ground and mix of use in one area … creates very small mosaics where all kinds of species can live,” she said.
Some endangered animals living there include the Yellow-bellied Toad, Natterjack Toad and Sand Dune Tiger Beetle, known as “pioneer species” because they can only live in undeveloped areas like the LTA.
The Natterjack Toad lays its eggs in shallow pools, such as the craters made by tanks, Gebhard added.
The variety of land also keeps training realistic for Soldiers, she added.
In order to preserve it, DPW hires contractors to run tracked construction machines through the LTA in lieu of actual tanks.
“We imitate tank training; we remove bushes and mow grass, and create puddles with excavators,” she said. “We remove the topsoil layer to create openings for pioneer plants and insects.”
Other measures include shrub removal, pond maintenance and clearing the forest to provide more light.
Protecting the LTA environment is also important for the future of Army training here, said Matt Aragon, Training Support Center Stuttgart range and LTA coordinator.
“Our main focus is to preserve the land, basically so it can be used 100 years from now, while currently enabling training,” he added. “We plan and conduct numerous projects a year and work with regional TSC Mannheim Forestry, Environmental Division and Range Control to provide the foundation to sustain training and land.”
To further protect the area, a fence was installed around the LTA in 2009, excluding public hiking areas such as the main access road, Musberger Weg.
In addition, the Federal Forestry Office and local Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V. group, or NABU, help fund efforts to conserve the area, Gebhard said. Baden-Württemberg’s state nature protection agency also pays for a sheep-grazing area in the LTA.
A conservation partnership
Conservation partnerships between local German and military communities to care for training areas are rare, Gebhard said. “This is a really positive effort that is really unique to the Army in Europe,” she added.
In fact, the partnership in Stuttgart was formed in response to controversy.
“There was a critical situation 15 years ago,” Gebhard said. German environmentalist groups in the Stuttgart area protested that the U.S. Army presence on the LTA was harming the environment, she said.
However, after several round table-style discussions, the protests turned into a positive working relationship, Gebhard said.
“[The environmentalist groups] actually developed a conservation concept for the area, and the Army agreed to implement it as long as the efforts do not interfere with the training mission,” she said. “The private groups learned that the Army is not about destroying nature.”
Fifteen years later, the LTA conservation plan presents a valuable Earth Day lesson for garrison community members: Care for nature in the state it is in.
“A lot of people think ‘nature’ is being in a park, having nice greens, mowed [lawns], bushes cut in straight lines,” Gebhard said. “Nature is more about chaos and dynamics. This is what training creates: woods not totally cleared, branches left in the woods to rot.
“It doesn’t look very nice … [but] this is what it should look like,” she added.