ASAN, Guam—The U.S. Department of Defense says it continues to invest in the protection, preservation and conservation of natural resources in Guam and the CNMI.
In this fiscal year alone, Joint Region Marianas estimates more than $26 million will be executed for conservation projects in the region, including approximately $5 million in environmental mitigation associated with military construction. In previous years, from 2016-2020, more than $35 million went to environmental protection and preservation throughout the region.
“Taking a proactive approach to protecting the region’s natural and cultural resources remains a priority for DoD,” Rear Adm. John Menoni, JRM commander said. “We recognize that the stewardship of the region’s cultural and natural resources is a significant responsibility and it is one we take seriously. We maintain open lines of communication with our local government partners and are committed to our alliances across the islands to ensure we are doing everything we can to respect and protect the history, heritage, and environment of this region.”
While there are numerous environmental protection programs in the region, the U.S. military has placed an emphasis on a few top priorities, which include military construction, military training, and ungulate management.
Marine life protection a priority in military construction
Military construction projects not only improve existing infrastructure and further enhance defense capabilities in the region, but include initiatives to protect and preserve natural resources to further support the DoD mission.
For example, a wharf improvement project was awarded in fiscal year 2021, which requires the relocation of approximately 4,500 coral colonies and the retention of the wharf’s historic features in inner Apra Harbor on U.S. Naval Base Guam.
“This is an unprecedented amount of coral with a cost of approximately $4 million to prepare the relocation habitat, delicately move thousands of coral, and monitor and maintain their survival for up to five years,” said Andres Reyes, a marine scientist with Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Marianas at NBG.
Future projects include plans to relocate an additional 150,000 coral colonies with an estimated cost of approximately $10.4 million. Approximately $3.9 million is expected to be invested in conservation actions and historic property protection for this project alone.
“A tremendous amount of resources, planning, dedication, and patience is required to successfully complete the translocation of coral,” Reyes said. “Prior to considering coral relocation, the Navy is required to consult with multiple federal and local agencies and receive their approvals. Once the consultations and regulatory permitting processes are completed, a team of marine biologists prepares the relocation site. This process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months depending on the weather and diving conditions.”
Reyes said the relocation of coral avoids and minimizes adverse effects to essential fish and marine habitats. “Essential fish habitat includes a variety of other marine resource units such as fish, macro-algae, water quality, and endangered species,” he said. “So this approach allows for ecosystem-based management.”
Biosecurity emphasized in military training
In order to protect threatened and endangered plants and animals in the region, the Navy continues to maintain an active biosecurity monitoring program. In particular, during military training events, biosecurity is a primary focus and an important component toward minimizing the risk of introducing invasive species to the islands.
According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Mariana Islands Training and Testing Biological Opinion of 2015, the Navy is required to inspect all aircraft, cargo, and equipment departing Guam for off-island destinations. In addition, they are to conduct inspections upon arrival in the CNMI when items arrive from Guam; have invasive species rapid response capability for high-risk species; and adhere to Armed Forces Pest Management Board guidance, which sets cleanliness standards for all cargo and equipment transfers.
During major military exercises in the Mariana Islands all exercise participants, including foreign allies, are required to adhere to all biosecurity policies. The Navy and other DoD service branches provide funding to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services, to conduct brown tree snake inspections of all items.
Assuring cleanliness standards are met, the Navy partners with Colorado State University’s Center for Environmental Management on Military Lands to inspect all cargo and equipment moving into and out of the Mariana Islands upon arrival and prior to departure. Approximately $3.2 million is invested annually to support BTS interdiction efforts in the region.
“Biosecurity measures are integrated into every aspect of training to ensure invasive species are not being transported during training events,” Stephen Mosher, NAVFAC Marianas natural resources specialist said. “Keeping invasive species out of the transportation network during training events reduces the risk of invasive species getting established and impacting threatened and endangered species.”
Ungulate management leads to habitat enhancement
Within the last fiscal year, up to $1.5 million has been invested in ungulate fence projects on each of the military installations in Guam. This serves to protect native habitats from two specific non-native invasive species—feral pigs and deer—which destroy natural vegetation, increase rates of erosion, contribute to the loss of native plant and animal species, and increase the spread of invasive plants.
Each conservation project involving an ungulate fence is composed of four phases: construction of the fence, removal of ungulates, removal of invasive species, and restoration of the area with native plant species. Currently, five fences are built or are under construction, covering approximately 885 acres on the Naval Munitions Site, Haputo Ecological Reserve Area, and
Northern Forest Enhancement Site on NBG. On Andersen Air Force Base, there are two fences constructed and several under design, which will conserve approximately 890 acres of habitat. In the next several years, 20 fence projects are planned to cover an area of more than 2,400 acres. The total investment of these fence projects is estimated to be $43 million.
“Ungulate eradication is a primary step in enhancing native forests,” said Aaron Rieffanaugh, NAVFAC Marianas natural resources specialist at AAFB. “On AAFB, Philippine deer and feral pigs impact nearly every aspect of forest regeneration and ecosystem management. They increase erosion and invasive plant intrusion by disturbing soil systems, which when combined with browsing pressures, prevents native plant recruitment causing negative impacts to the forest structure and its diversity. With the addition of the ungulate fences at AAFB and others within JRM, we expect to see dramatic improvements [toward] a much healthier ecosystem here [in] Guam.”
“Protection and conservation of our natural resources while sustaining DoD’s mission in the Marianas for the security of our nation, our region and our island is paramount and a cornerstone of our environmental programs,” John F. Salas, NAVFAC Marianas environmental director at JRM, said. (PR)