TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
The 72nd Air Base Wing Civil Engineering Direcorate Natural Resources Department is nearing the end of the planting season for more than 3,000 native prairie plants received in September.
When deciding what to plant on base, Natural Resources Program Manager John Krupovage said the department focuses on ensuring a diversity of plants.
“We try to get as many different native plants as we can. Different plants support different insects, and different insects support the individual preferences of different wildlife species. So by promoting a diverse plant community we are able to support a greater diversity of wildlife,” Krupovage said.
“Basically, the more diverse, the more healthy and the more healthy, the more resilient. But, this also must be tempered with Tinker AFB’s flying mission to ensure we don’t attract wildlife that would be hazardous to aircraft. It’s a balance.”
The department uses both seeds and plugs — small potted seedlings — depending on funding and where the plants are going.
“Part of it is experimental for us, learning what’s most effective and learning what’s going to do well by plug versus by seed,” he said. “Seeding is cheaper, but it doesn’t always give us the best product, so plugging is an alternative.”
Natural Resources Technician Donna Nolan said the department has created a database of native plants that matches Tinker AFB’s ecotone, or region of transition between two biological communities.
She said the office is intentional about planting things where they will thrive, as well as using them to mitigate flooding and erosion where possible.
Additionally, they plant them in “colonies,” organizing plants into groups that do better in wet soil, shade, full sun and so on.
Plant colonies help pollinators, such as monarch butterflies, capitalize on several plants of same species being in the same area.
An insect uses less energy foraging on multiple closely spaced plants than on individual plants scattered a quarter mile apart, Nolan said.
Krupovage said the work that goes into planting and maintaining natural areas on base saves the Air Force money long-term by reducing grounds maintenance costs.
Additionally, maintaining healthy natural systems typically prevents species from going into decline and become listed as threatened or endangered, which could impose constraints on, or increase costs for, military operations on the installation.
Additionally, the installation has a responsibility to the environment, Krupovage said.
“We need to be good stewards of the environment. We’ve not always been that. We are the caretakers of this public land, and as a federal agency in particular, I think it’s incumbent on us to be an example,” Krupovage said.
A recent focus of the department is the KC-46A Prairie Mitigation Project, an ongoing effort to convert a portion of former base housing into prairie to make up for prairie lost to the KC-46 hangar construction.
In the current phase of the project, the department is planting wildflowers in the area.
Nolan said the land being converted for the project was previously an “ecological desert,” but now hosts swallows, owls and other wildlife. Seeing these changes makes her “jump out of (her) skin,” she said.
Krupovage said it is gratifying to see plants grow and bloom, knowing his office is making a difference and leaving things better than they were.
“It’s not just satisfying for us to see that; it’s satisfying to see other people use base natural areas and enjoy them, getting out on the trail system with their families. That’s our part of providing for the Airmen and making it a greener, more livable, more vibrant community for them,” Krupovage said.