Sustainable Fort Rucker
Sustainable Fort Rucker
 : : Environmental & Natural Resources Division, Directorate of Public Works (DPW) : :

MISSION: In order to sustain the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker's training, readiness, and quality of life needs, we will provide the guidance, actions, and customer assistance necessary to comply with all environmental laws and regulations, prevent pollution where possible, protect and conserve vital natural resources, and continually improve our operations.

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Forestry


Purpose and Objectives

The primary purpose of Fort Rucker’s forestry program is to manipulate the landscape in a manner that provides realistic training landscapes for Army aviators and ground-based military personnel who, as a function of their duties, require skills that allow them to survive in combat. Fort Rucker forestry personnel consistently meet with trainers to ensure that all needs are being captured in the layout of all forested areas.

 

Management objectives have changed from early forest restoration, to intensive management of all available acreage for commercial products, to a unified ecosystem management approach.  Within this framework, the generation of revenue from commercial forestry activities is a tertiary consideration.

 

Once mission constraints are met and forest health issues addressed, thoughtful and sustainable timber management activities may be carried out.  Quality forests yield better habitats while allowing higher returns from less ground disturbing activities.

Scope of Forest Management

Almost all of Fort Rucker (including Cairns AAF) is classified as forest (58,043 acres), which is divided as follows:

  • 8,259 acres (14%) are managed for pine (even-aged management);
  • 19,194 acres (33%) are managed for pine/hardwoods (using even and uneven-aged management);
  • 10,498 acres (18%) are managed for hardwoods; and
  • Remainder is relatively unmanaged (such as the impact area - 23%) or within the cantonment or other restricted areas (12%). 

Commercial Forest Products

Fort Rucker produces a number of forest products:

 

  • Pine sawtimber - Minimum merchantability is 10 inches diameter outside the bark at breast height (4 1/2 feet above the ground) to a 6-inch top outside the bark.
  • Hardwood sawtimber - Minimum merchantability is 12 inches outside the bark at breast height to an eight-inch top outside the bark.
  • Pine Chip-N-Saw – An intermediate product that revolves around a market that is often volatile and sometimes non-existent. Minimum merchantability is seven inches outside bark at breast height to a four inch top outside the bark. Log specifications can vary and are somewhat mill specific.
  • Pine pulpwood - Minimum merchantability is five inches diameter outside the bark at breast height to a four-inch top outside the bark.  All timber taken tree length shall have a minimum of five bolts.
  • Hardwood pulpwood - Minimum merchantability is 6 inches diameter outside the bark at breast height to a 4-inch top outside the bark.

Timber Management

Fort Rucker timber compartments are on a 10-year management cycle.  Cutting units are managed in such a way that timber harvesting occurs in Training Areas across the installation each year. This serves to limit any potentially short-term negative effects on training in any one area. Throughout each year, timber stand improvement (TSI) is conducted to ensure that each stand of timber is maintained in a healthy status. TSI is conducted using both chemical and mechanical methods. Recently thinned areas in which herbaceous and woody stems have increased in abundance due to an increase in sunlight are targeted for the application of herbicide in order to promote the correct species and to limit unwanted vegetation. Prescribed fire is used extensively to control unwanted vegetation and to promote wildlife habitat. 11,000 acres are planned for prescribed fire each year. Season of burn and weather are determinants used to meet the objectives for each fire.

Thinning

A thinning is a harvesting operation in an immature or mature stand or group of trees to increase the rate of growth of residual timber, to improve biodiversity, to foster higher quality forest environments, to improve spacing, and to promote sanitation.  Low-thinning is the primary thinning method used in mature stands of timber on Fort Rucker. Individual tree selection is the primary method of marking mature timber for low thinnings. A low thinning focuses on removing diseased, suppressed, and overtopped trees, as well as codominants and dominants that most likely will not survive until the stand is revisited for subsequent thinnings or other harvests. Removing these trees serves to promote greater growth on superior trees within each stand. Geometric thinning is used for thinning planted pine stands (plantations) that have yet to be thinned. Row thinnings (i.e. fifth row thinning) and corridor thinnings (used in areas that were not planted in rows or that naturally seeded in) are types of geometric thinning.

 

Fort Rucker’s thinning efforts becoming more focused on conversion of existing pine stands to longleaf pine.  Removing intermediate and/or suppressed undesirable pines and increased fire frequency and intensity encourage desired longleaf pines. Though the majority of the forested areas are currently managed using even-aged management, we are in the process of developing plans that promote uneven-aged management of pine-dominated stands. Current thinning operations are leading us in the direction of managing an uneven-aged forest throughout Fort Rucker.

Prescribed Burning

Prescribed burning is the most important and the most cost effective tool for managing and improving forested ecosystems.  The trend to the exclusion of fire over the last fifty years played a key role in the reduction of biodiversity in our forested ecosystems.  In the past, fire served to eliminate shrubby competition, return nutrients to the soil, and aid in some seed germination.  These fire-maintained ecosystems supply significant browse for wildlife thereby enhancing biodiversity.  Present settlement patterns make wildfires highly undesirable. Prescribed burning provides a mechanism for the reduction of fire fuel loads in forested areas, reducing the likelihood wildfires will occur.

 

Because of the potential impact of prescribed burning on helicopter training, the Forestry Section coordinates all burns with Airfield Air Space Management and Range Control and all other directorates on post, as well as local communities.    The Fire Department is informed, on a daily basis, of prescribed burning activities prior to commencing a burn, when securing from a burn area, and the location of the burn area.

 

The prescribed burning program at Fort Rucker is predominately dormant season burning, which begins around the first of December and continues through April.  The annual goal is to burn 10,000 to 12,000 acres.  An increase in growing season burns is anticipated during the next five years to promote stand conversion to longleaf pine, control unwanted hardwood species, and to improve gopher tortoise habitat.  Due to weather and military training constraints there are usually only 20 to 24 acceptable burn days within this time frame.
 

Contact Information

Forestry POC
(334) 255-1661
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