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Fort Drum conservationists work to restore threatened grassland area

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FORT DRUM — It’s a clean slate for a portion of the post’s training areas near Route 3A, as its environmental workers look to restore the threatened sandplain grasslands and protect species that call it home.

“It was one of those habitats; we believe it’s important,” said Jason E. Wagner, Fort Drum’s natural resources branch chief. “We want to make sure that we keep those habitats here so we have healthy populations.”

He said post crews have spent about two years planning the restoration of the approximately 350-acre focus area. The area was selected, he said, due to its low-impact training and its proximity to the highly trafficked public roadway.

In the past 25 years, the development of forests, invasive grass species and human activity have threatened the grasslands, which are characterized by grasses less than a foot tall and scattered trees.

The grassland habitat is home to vegetation like common hairgrass, reindeer lichen and Blue Ridge sedge, along with animals like the grasshopper sparrow, black swallowtail butterfly and the protected upland sandpiper.

“If we want grassland habitat to be maintained and we believe that is important, then all you can do is manage it to keep it that way,” Mr. Wagner said.

The post’s grasslands have already been deemed a significant community by the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s New York Natural Heritage Program.

The major restoration work started this past winter, when logging crews came in and cut down the trees covering 90 acres of the focus area. In addition to protecting the critical grasses, the removal of the trees will move potential predators for the smaller protected birds settling in the grasslands.

Crews worked in deep snow to prevent the heavy logging vehicles from shredding the delicate vegetation below.

“Now we have a big core open area that’s important for those grassland species,” Mr. Wagner said.

The post’s costs for the restoration work are offset by revenues from the logging, and the post will see some future costs in maintaining the habitat.

Mr. Wagner said the restored area will show signs of stability in about three years. For now, crews will be doing spot herbicide clearing work to ensure the invasive vegetation does not return.

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