Travis Air Force puts #NoBounds on endangered species protection

Travis Air Force Base in Solano County, California, is home to the largest airlift organization in the Air Force. As a major strategic logistics hub with global impact, the base is critical to the overall mission of the total force. One strategic project the base is committed to is its Environmental Management System, which includes protection of threatened and endangered species.

The base has made a significant contribution to species recovery by using grazing as a land management tool, conducting long-term demographic studies, monitoring species and educating the public. In fact, its natural resources management team maintains survey maps that illustrate each location where threatened and endangered species have been found on the base, including vernal pool fairy shrimp, vernal pool tadpole shrimp, Contra Costa goldfields and California tiger salamander.

As part of their species monitoring efforts, Travel Air Force Base personnel install silt fencing and pitfall traps to reroute California tiger salamanders away from the runway. ©Kirsten Christopherson, Air Force Civil Engineer Center, Travis Installation Support Section

The Sacramento office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works closely with the Natural Resources Management Team, providing guidance and approval for base projects that impact habitat used by the at-risk species. Wetlands in California are extremely limited, which can negatively impact a variety of species, like California Tiger Salamander, which depend on a wetland ecosystem for survival. The base offers ideal habitat because it is surrounded by 17 ponds that the salamander uses for breeding before returning to underground burrows where it spends most of its life.

The Natural Resources Management Team has observed the California Tiger Salamander traveling more than a half mile from a breeding pond to a burrow in upland habitat on the base, but the species has been documented to travel over a mile when moving from a breeding pond to appropriate upland habitat at other locations. In 2017, a year with high rainfall, the salamander attempted to cross a runway where military aircraft takeoff and land daily. The team has put measures in place to monitor the species and to avoid impacts that could threaten its survival and prevent aircraft from flying safely. Personnel use dipnets to check breeding ponds for larvae. This identifies which ponds are used for breeding each season, larvae development and pond water levels. Recently, the team installed silt fencing to help guide the California Tiger Salamander to safe upland habitat, while avoiding the runway.

Conserving the population of the California tiger salamander on the base benefits other wetland- and grassland-dependent animal and plant species. The hard work that personnel have put into their environmental management projects shows that the #nobounds hashtag frequently used in their social media posts not only applies to their military mission, but also their mission to protect at-risk species.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is a Strategic Partner of The Wildlife Society.

Header Image: A threatened California tiger salamander crosses the runway at Travis Air Force Base. ©Kirsten Christopherson, Air Force Civil Engineer Center, Travis Installation Support Section