Alabama is one of the most biodiverse states in the U.S., and the nearly 40,000 acres of land encompassed by Redstone Arsenal are no exception to that. However, Endangered Species Day, observed on May 21, shed some light on a few of the plants and animals that may not be around forever.
Currently, a handful of endangered and threatened species reside within the gates of Redstone Arsenal. Endangered species include the Alabama cave shrimp, the Indiana bat and the gray bat, while the northern long-eared bat and Price’s potato bean are currently threatened.
Christine Easterwood has been an ecologist with the Garrison Environmental Management Division for 11 years. Her primary role is to track the populations of endangered and threatened species that live on the Arsenal and ensure that installation activities and missions of the Army’s tenant organizations do not put those populations at risk of harm.
If a mission cannot be completed without posing a risk to an endangered or threatened species, Easterwood coordinates with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work out the best path forward, ensuring that organizations on the installations can meet their goals while preserving the natural environment as much as possible.
Endangered species, Easterwood said, are at the highest risk for becoming extinct. “They may be more sensitive to changes in the environment, either from humans or pollution or contaminated groundwater.”
Threatened species are “one step down” from endangered, she said. “They’re not critically in danger, but if the pattern continues, making them more rare or sensitive, then they may be headed towards becoming endangered, with a higher risk of extinction.”
Identifying and monitoring the abundant wildlife on Redstone Arsenal takes cooperation from many different organizations. Easterwood’s office works with Auburn University and other state and federal agencies to survey the land every few years or so and get an understanding of what baseline populations exist on the Arsenal. In some cases, like that of the Indiana bat, the survey does not necessarily chronicle the exact size of the population, but rather highlights the areas on the installation that would serve as a suitable habitat for the animal.
“The thing about managing is trying to keep the landscape in the best condition it can be to support the animal or the plant,” Easterwood said.
This management differs greatly by species. For example, the Alabama cave shrimp, which has only been found in Madison and Jackson counties, is present in one cave on Redstone Arsenal. Because of their subterranean habitat, Alabama cave shrimp are vulnerable to groundwater contamination; therefore, any organization performing an activity that may affect the groundwater quality must take proper precautions to ensure that their activity is not posing an unnecessary risk to the species. Groundwater protection precautions are usually included in best management practices for normal construction work, since they prevent erosion and groundwater sedimentation. In this instance, these practices serve an additional purpose because they protect the Arsenal’s Alabama cave shrimp population.
The three endangered/threatened bat species on Redstone Arsenal provide another example. While many people associate bats with caves, Easterwood said that bat activity in wooded areas is more of a concern on the installation. Many species of bats hibernate in caves during the winter but live in forest “maternity colonies” where they raise their young during the warmer months. To protect these populations, time-of-year restrictions have been placed on tree cutting.
On an individual level, Easterwood encourages visitors to be good stewards of the land on Redstone Arsenal.
“If you’re out here hiking or biking, try to keep your footprint restrained,” she said. “Try to stay on trail.” Easterwood also asks that visitors take personal responsibility and refrain from littering.