Malmstrom’s environmental stewardship earns Air Force award

  • Published
  • By Heather Heiney
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Many people may not immediately correlate the Air Force with environmental conservation. However, Air Force environmental compliance and natural resource management of the environment is essential to mission success.

Recently, the 341st Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources Team won the 2021 Air Force Civil Engineer Awards Thomas D. White award for best natural resources conservation team.

“This honor reflects a legacy of Malmstrom environmental stewardship extending decades,” said Col. Anita Feugate Opperman, 341st Missile Wing commander. “I’m extremely proud of our team and the demonstrated excellence and shared commitment between Malmstrom Air Force Base and our community partners. I’m really proud of our team.”

The 341 Civil Engineer Squadron commander highlighted his unit’s focus on the environment and keys to success.

“The squadron’s natural resources team continues to demonstrate a commitment to our mission while balancing the need to care for the environment and the state of Montana’s natural and cultural resources. Awards like this reflect our commitment to community, teamwork and executing a special trust and responsibility mission to exacting standards of excellence,” said Lt Col. Greene, 341st CES commander.

The Malmstrom natural resources team biologist, environmental engineers, civil engineers and physical scientists work closely with city, county, state and federal natural resources agencies such as: the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The team continually evaluates proposed and current mission actions, assessing how Malmstrom activities effect the installation and the 25,000-acre missile complex, which includes four broad ecoregions ranging in elevation from 2,620 to 8,220 feet above sea level. This broad-based management approach requires compliance with federal, state and local laws and regulations and implementing best management practices to minimize mission effects to air, water, land, flora and fauna.

While no federally-threatened or endangered species occur on the main base, ten listed and sensitive species have ranges that overlap with numerous missile sites. Environmental knowledge constantly evolves, requiring the team to evaluate affects from mission practices previously thought acceptable. The team assesses potential site contamination and works with the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Environmental Quality to implement monitoring or corrective actions. That team and established partnerships ensure any identified contamination or effect does not endanger people.

“Management and protection of natural resources on Malmstrom are essential to supporting mission requirements and to provide for the long-term sustainability of the area,” said Tony Lucas, 341st CES environmental element chief.

The team uses the Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan as a principle tool for managing natural and cultural resources. The Malmstrom INRMP highlights key issues for mission success including: tribal consultation, improving pond and prairie grassland habitat ecological integrity, updating and maintaining awareness of wildlife species, protecting the Missouri River watershed, controlling invasive species, minimizing bird and wildlife aircraft strike hazards and sustaining opportunities for outdoor recreation.

In addition to their annual conservation and community outreach work, last year the team stabilized and restored a streambank near one of the wing’s missile alert facilities, helped improve the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Statewide General permit, removed invasive Russian olive trees, restored native grasses and wildflowers and protected native burrowing owls and other birds.

“Many folks may not automatically associate environmental preservation with a nuclear-capable Air Force mission,” said Col. Chris Karns, 341st Mission Support Group commander. “When you look at the range of measures our team takes, the outreach that is conducted and the desire to partner and preserve natural resources, it reflects our emphasis on environmental stewardship and its importance to the mission.”