Fort Stewart Fish and Wildlife branch chief’s childhood love of animals leads to a career in conservation | Article
Larry Carlisle was destined to work with animals from a young age. When he was in third grade, he waited until he was out of sight of his mother before heading out into the desert for his daily walks to school at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix.
“He told me not to walk to school in the desert, but I did anyway because I was so fascinated by it,” Carlisle said. “I got to see roadrunners and Gambel’s quail and horned lizards and all kinds of cacti and hummingbirds and things like that. He was totally, totally fascinated by it.”
A transfer to Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Georgia brought Carlisle to Georgia. Her love for wildlife did not stop.
“I was still fascinated by all the things in this state, like the tortoises, the longleaf pines and the indigo snakes,” Carlisle said.
Carlisle’s childhood fascination led him to work directly with red-headed woodpeckers at Fort Stewart-Hunter Airfield when he joined the Directorate of Public Works, Fish and Wildlife Branch as a wildlife biologist at 1994. Worked his way up to supervisor in 2010 and then branch manager in 2019.
As a wildlife biologist, Carlisle conducted RCW tree cavity surveys, early morning banding, overnight roost, preparing tree stands for prescribed burns by the Forestry Branch, and more. In his nearly 30 years on staff here, Carlisle has been steadily increasing the RCW population up to its recovery threshold.
“In the US Fish and Wildlife Service recovery plan for the red-cockaded woodpecker, Fort Stewart was supposed to achieve 350 woodpecker groups before we could consider this population to have recovered,” Carlisle said. “Most of the other facilities and most of the other state and private property had also been growing all this time. The woodpecker is much better today than when I started working here in ’94. When I started working here in ’94, we had 150 groups. Last breeding season, we had 612. We are well past our recovery threshold.”
The steady growth of the RCW population here allowed the training restrictions associated with the species to be removed in 2012. By removing the restrictions, previously closed areas were opened up for maneuvering. This benefited the 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers who call the installation home, resulting in increased training opportunities.
“When we reached that recovery threshold, we removed all the reflective white banding from all the woodpecker cavity trees,” Carlisle said. “We removed the diamond-yellow signs indicating that soldiers were near a group of red-headed woodpeckers, which allowed them to not have to worry about it when they’re in a real training scenario, they could just walk through the woods the next day. the way they needed it.
In addition to protecting wildlife, the Fish and Wildlife branch helps prepare the 3rd Infantry Division and other Army units and sister services by working with landowners adjacent to the installation. The associations are codified by the Army’s Compatible Use Buffer under the Defense Environmental Restoration Program. Land is not purchased from owners, Carlisle said. Instead, conservation easements are placed on the lands of neighbors willing to ensure that any use is compatible with Fort Stewart’s mission.
“For the most part, the easements around Fort Stewart are working land easements, so the owners continued to use their land as they did before the easement existed,” Carlisle said. “Whether it’s growing Vidalia onions or planting pine trees or having a hunting club, they continue to do it. Those properties still remain on the tax rolls so counties don’t lose out on the revenue they expect from taxes.”
A recent ongoing ACUB effort in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Conservation Fund, Nature Conservancy, and others is to protect the Altamaha River corridor southwest of Fort Stewart by tying a conservation area with little or no development in the coming years to allow air maneuvers between Townsend Bombing Range near Darien, Georgia—operated by Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina—and the Fort Stewart artillery hit area.
“You could have fast vehicles come in from the ocean to drop bombs at Townsend and then use that same corridor to get to Fort Stewart without blowing out the eardrums of people who might be living below the flight path,” Carlisle said.
Another project with readiness implications is the 2010 purchase of Elbow Swamp by the Georgia Alabama Land Trust, another Fort Stewart ACUB partner, to create a wetland mitigation bank, Carlisle said. Wetland credits are used to offset the environmental impacts of building new training facilities, such as shooting ranges, on existing wetlands. The facility already has several wetland credits saved from previous rank projects that were not built due to a shortage of funds.
Fort Stewart Garrison Commander Col. Manuel Ramirez said efforts like these are a testament to Carlisle’s commitment to conservation.
“Larry and the team are deeply entrenched with their conservation partners,” Ramírez said. “Together, they are working hard to protect the lands around Fort Stewart in the continuation of our primary power projection platform capability to provide our nation with ready and capable forces.”
Carlisle and his team ensure that the flora and fauna of Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield work in harmony with the installation’s primary mission of training our nation’s armed forces. Wildlife stewardship and land conservation efforts make this possible. However, at the end of the day, Carlisle emphasized that while the goal is to conserve the ecosystem here, he wants the public to know that they can come see the wonders of nature here.
“All they need to do is get a permit from iSportsman,” he said. “You buy a hunting permit or a fishing permit or just a recreational permit to pick cranberries and bird watch if people are interested in seeing how beautiful this scenery is. Many people are surprised that it is a military installation. They think it’s just a barren landscape until they get here and realize there are so many threatened and endangered species here, so many state listed species, intact ecosystem of longleaf pine wire grass, that’s it. very rare these days. They can come see it for themselves.”