By Air National Guard Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
Florida National Guard
STARKE, Fla. (4/10/12) – A thousand-mile, 100-day expedition stopped at the National Guard's training post in North Florida recently, emphasizing the importance of the military site as a wildlife habitat.
Four trekkers from the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition visited Camp Blanding Joint Training Center, April 8 to 9, where they met with members of the Florida National Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to discuss the natural habitats at the post.
The expedition, which began Jan. 17, seeks to raise awareness for wildlife corridors in Florida by hiking, biking and paddling through natural lands from the Everglades to the Georgia border.
The team visiting Camp Blanding included a biologist, a conservationist, a photographer, and a videographer.
According to expedition biologist Joe Guthrie, the 72,000-acre military post is an important stopping point for wildlife along the greenway between the Ocala and Osceola National Forests.
"Camp Blanding is a major hub in the corridor that the State and (FWC) are trying to understand – especially when it comes to the Black Bear," Guthrie said.
Guthrie and the team met with Land Component Commander Army Brig. Gen. Richard Gallant, FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley, and other officials during their visit to Camp Blanding.
Conversation during the meeting included the increasing population of bears on the post, the importance of buffer zones between the post and nearby civilian homes, and the amount of military training in the area.
"This is tremendously important to Camp Blanding," Gallant said of the meeting with the expedition on April 9. "This helps us protect the training lands that we have by enhancing our relationships with FWC and other organizations, and improve the training opportunities for those visiting Camp Blanding."
FWC Executive Director Wiley agreed that the expedition's stop would highlight Camp Blanding's place in the wildlife corridor in north-central Florida.
"Camp Blanding is a great example of why these lands are so important to fish and wildlife in Florida," Wiley said. "And that is really a big emphasis of their expedition across the state: to highlight the importance of these lands and how they're linked together.
"Our fish and wildlife need linkages, they need to be connected," he said. "…without habitat linkages and corridors like this, Florida wouldn't be Florida. It wouldn't be special. One of the things that we hold dear as Floridians is our fish and wildlife."
Camp Blanding Joint Training Center is located near Starke, Fla. The training site is home to both Florida Army and Air National Guard units, and is an ideal training area for military units because of its varied topography-planted pine plantations, swamps, oak hammocks, desert-like terrain-with minimal environmental restrictions. It is also home to many native wildlife species.