The tall grasses lining Mitchell Avenue are a sign of Tinker Air Force Base rebuilding a robust, native ecosystem to benefit everyone who lives and works on and off the installation.
Tinker is restoring land back to its original prairie, and though it is a different approach to managing urban land, it is making the base much more resilient and beneficial for years to come.
“We are trying to be responsible land stewards as the American public would expect us to be. We can’t just continue to take. At some point we have to replace what we’ve taken so we can keep the environment healthy. This translates into mission-related benefits such as keeping wildlife species from going into decline and becoming listed as threatened or endangered, which can complicate the Air Force mission,” said John Krupovage, Natural Resources manager.
The prairie restoration is intentional and, according to Krupovage, serves three primary purposes: It mitigates the loss of green space due to the KC-46 construction site; it serves to reduce maintenance costs of having to mow large areas of grass; and it restores floodplain functions and values.”
Much of the land going back to prairie previously had houses and high-maintenance lawns. Converting to prairie reduces grounds maintenance costs and is just a smarter way of managing these land areas, Krupovage said.
Krupovage added that healthy native vegetation helps rebuild the food chain for species that are stressed by poor habitat conditions.
Tall grass acts as a natural water filter, which improves water quality. The grasses shade the water and keep it cool. Cooler water provides a better habitat for fish and other wildlife which use the stream.
This way of managing the land makes Tinker AFB more resilient. According to Krupovage, the land is being managed in part to meet requirements of Federal Executive Order 11988, which mandate restoration of floodplain functions and values such as floodwater attenuation, filtering water pollutants and linking fragmented natural areas.
“Tinker is also being a good neighbor to Midwest City, by managing its floodplains properly. When it rains, the Tinker water runoff needs somewhere to go or it would flood the city downstream,” said Krupovage. “By providing that floodwater detention space on Tinker, we are not making Midwest City’s flood problems worse.
“A healthy prairie is pretty beautiful,” said Krupovage. “It takes time to transition from mowed Bermuda grass turf and weeds to prairie. Using practices such as prescribed burning will take us there. Ultimately it will mature and grow to be attractive.”
The Air Force is committed to preserving and protecting the natural environment as it accomplishes its military mission. The conservation of natural resources and the completion of restoration efforts is one way Tinker AFB is remaining good stewards of the environment.