The weapon of choice at the Panzer Local Training Area on Nov. 5 was not a semi-automatic rifle, but a pitchfork. An army of volunteers converged on the LTA armed with lawn mowers, saws and pitchforks to clear the area from overgrown grass and shrubs, and fallen branches during “Operation Landscape Protection Day.”
Since 1997, U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart’s Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division, Federal Forestry Office and the Swabian Albverein (German nature and wandering club) have coordinated the event every two years.
This year, volunteers from various German conservation groups, as well as members of the Böblingen youth firefighter association, and Boy Scouts from the Stuttgart military community, participated in the cleanup. “The Panzer Local Training Area is home to a variety of endangered plants, animals and amphibians,” said Inga Gebhard, a geo-ecologist with DPW.
Yellow-bellied and natterjack toads were able to adapt in the LTA’s unique environment because up to 15 years ago, tanks frequently passed through the area, creating biotopes (shallow puddles) in their tracks, which is the perfect habitat for the species to settle, according to Gebhard.
Because fertilizer has never been used at the LTA, creatures such as tree frogs, sand lizards, dune tiger beetles and plants such as the maiden pink and the sheep’s bit, find the raw soil a conducive habitat.
More than 100 volunteers cut trees, branches and shrubs, and raked grass to clear several meadows of weeds and brushwood to make room for plants and animals, and preserve the low nutrient meadows.
“It is very important that we clear the area frequently,” said Karl Stäbler, group leader for the Swabian Albverein Stuttgart-Echterdingen and the main organizer of the event.
Overall, the volunteers cleared five sites and about 14 acres of land that are all located in the “Rotes Steigle” area, according to Stäbler.
Fifteen Boy Scouts from Troop 324 and their Scoutmasters participated. The Scouts, equipped with pitchforks, worked alongside volunteers from German nature groups.
“We’re helping to preserve the meadow environment by removing extra weeds,” said 16-year-old Ted Kendrick, the senior patrol leader for Troop 324. “We’re enjoying the cooperation with members of the German conservation groups in order to keep the environment clean.”
The Böblingen youth firefighters also helped to cut trees and branches after being instructed by their team leaders on how to use axes, saws and other equipment.
“It’s so much fun for the children to work outdoors and learn about the environment,” said Jürgen Ludwig, with the Böblingen firefighters, who participated along with 12 youngsters from the youth firefighters association.
To help educate Landscape Protection Day participants, DPW set up signs that explained the LTA’s flora, fauna and their habitats. Gebhard made a pointed effort to engage the younger volunteers in discussions about the area’s uniqueness.
Besides helping the environment, Landscape Protection Day provided a chance for Germans and Americans to interact.
“This day provided a wonderful opportunity to get together with our German friends,” said Joe Hoeing, a Scoutmaster with Troop 324. “It’s great that so many Germans support us in maintaining this unique environment out here.”
Since it is the garrison’s mission to protect the LTA environment, DPW works closely with the Federal Forestry Department and with the District Government of Stuttgart year-round. These agencies provide funding, subject matter experts and other authoritative guidance in managing and maintaining the LTA’s environment.
“The joint effort between the German and American stakeholders is the most important thing when trying to preserve the environment of these habitat sites,” said geo-ecologist.Gebhard. The “The garrison’s cooperation with host nation environmental protection groups and its contributions to preserve the biotopes is something that’s not being done anywhere else in Europe.”