MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. —
Many people don’t immediately associate the Air Force with environmental protection. However, Air Force compliance with environmental regulations and management of the environment’s natural resources are essential to mission success.
Recently, the 341st Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources Team won the 2021 Air Force Civil Engineer Awards Thomas D. White Award for Best Natural Resource Conservation Team.
“This honor reflects a decade-long legacy of Malmstrom environmental stewardship,” said Col. Anita Feugate Opperman, commander, 341st Missile Squadron. “I am extremely proud of our team and the demonstrated excellence and shared commitment between Malmstrom Air Force Base and our community partners. I’m really proud of our team.”
The 341 Civil Engineer Squadron commander emphasized his unit’s focus on the environment and the keys to success.
“The squadron’s natural resources team continues to demonstrate their commitment to our mission while balancing the need to care for the environment and the state of Montana’s natural and cultural resources. Awards like these reflect our commitment to community, teamwork and fulfilling a special mission of trust and responsibility to exacting standards of excellence,” said Lt Col. Greene, 341st CES commander.
The biologists, environmental engineers, civil engineers and physicists of the Malmstrom natural resource team work closely with city, state, state and federal natural resource agencies including: the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service , the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The team continuously evaluates proposed and current mission actions and assesses how Malmstrom’s activities will impact the installation and the 25,000-acre missile complex, which encompasses four major ecoregions ranging in elevation from 2,620 to 8,220 feet above sea level. This broad management approach requires compliance with federal, state and local laws and regulations and the implementation of best management practices to minimize the impact of operations on air, water, land, flora and fauna.
While there are no federally threatened or endangered species on the main base, ten listed and sensitive species have areas that overlap numerous missile sites. Environmental knowledge is constantly evolving, requiring the team to evaluate the impact of mission practices previously deemed acceptable. The team assesses a potential site contamination and works with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Environmental Quality to implement monitoring or corrective actions. This team and established partnerships ensure that no identified contaminations or impacts endanger people.
“The management and protection of natural resources at Malmstrom are essential to meeting mission requirements and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the area,” said Tony Lucas, 341st CES environmental element chief.
The team uses the Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan as the basic tool for managing natural and cultural resources. The Malmstrom INRMP highlights key issues for mission success including: tribal counseling, improving the ecological integrity of pond and prairie grassland habitats, updating and maintaining awareness of wildlife species, protecting the Missouri River watershed, controlling invasive species, minimizing threats to birds – and wildlife aircraft and conservation opportunities for outdoor recreation.
In addition to their annual conservation and community outreach work, over the past year the team has stabilized and restored a riverbank near one of the wing’s missile warning facilities, helped improve the municipal separate storm sewer system, provided statewide general approval, removed invasive Russian olive trees, and placed restores native grasses and wildflowers as well as protected native burrowing owls and other birds.
“Many people may not automatically associate environmental protection with a nuclear-capable Air Force mission,” said Col. Chris Karns, commander of the 341st Mission Support Group. “When you look at the range of actions our team is taking, the outreach that is being conducted, and the desire to partner and conserve natural resources, it reflects our emphasis on environmental protection and its importance to the mission.”