Fort Stewart Fish and Wildlife Branch Chief’s Childhood Love for Animals Leads to a Career in Conservation | Article

Larry Carlisle was destined to work with animals from a young age. When he was in third grade, he waited until he was out of sight of his mother before heading into the desert for his daily walks to school at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix.

“He told me not to walk to school in the desert, but I did anyway because I was so fascinated by it,” Carlisle said. “I got to see roadrunners and Gambel’s quail and horned lizards and all kinds of cacti and hummingbirds and things like that. He was totally, totally fascinated by it.”

A transfer to Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Georgia brought Carlisle to Georgia. Her love for wildlife did not stop.

“I was still fascinated with all the things that are in this state, like tortoises, longleaf pines and indigo snakes,” Carlisle said.

Carlisle’s childhood fascination led him to work directly with red-headed woodpeckers at Fort Stewart-Hunter Military Airfield when he joined the Directorate of Public Works, Fish and Wildlife Branch as a wildlife biologist at 1994. Worked his way up to supervisor in 2010 and then branch manager in 2019.

As a wildlife biologist, Carlisle conducted RCW tree cavity surveys, early morning girdling, overnight roosting, preparing stands of trees for prescribed burns by the Forestry Branch, and more. In his nearly 30 years on staff here, Carlisle has been steadily growing the RCW population to its recovery threshold.

“In the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery plan for the red-crested woodpecker, Fort Stewart was supposed to achieve 350 groups of woodpeckers before we could consider this population to have recovered,” Carlisle said. “Most of the other facilities and most of the other state and private property had also been growing during all this time. The woodpecker is doing much better today than when I started working here in ’94. When I started working here in ’94, we had 150 groups. Last breeding season, we had 612. We have far exceeded our recovery threshold.”

The steady growth of the RCW population here allowed for the removal of training restrictions associated with the species in 2012. Removing the restrictions opened up previously closed areas for maneuvering. This benefited the soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division who call the installation home, resulting in increased training opportunities.

“When we hit that recovery threshold, we removed all the reflective white bands from all the woodpecker cavity trees,” Carlisle said. “We removed the diamond yellow signs indicating that soldiers were near a group of red-headed woodpeckers, which allowed them not to have to worry about that when they are in a real training scenario, they could just go through the forest on how they needed it.

In addition to protecting wildlife, the Fish and Wildlife branch contributes to the readiness of the 3rd Infantry Division and other Army units and sister services by working with landowners adjacent to the installation. Associations are codified by the Army’s Compatible Use Buffer under the Defense Environmental Restoration Program. Land is not purchased from owners, Carlisle said. Instead, conservation easements are placed on neighbors’ land willing to ensure that any use is compatible with Fort Stewart’s mission.

“For the most part, the easements around Fort Stewart are working easements, so owners continued to use their land as they did before the easement existed,” Carlisle said. “Whether it’s growing Vidalia onions or planting pine trees or having a hunting club, they continue to do so. Those properties still remain on the tax rolls so the counties don’t lose the revenue they expect from the taxes.”

A recent ACUB effort underway in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Conservation Trust, the Nature Conservancy and others is to protect the Altamaha River corridor southwest of Fort Stewart by bridging a conservation area with little or no development over the next few years to enable aerial maneuvers between Townsend Bombing Range near Darien, Georgia—operated by Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina—and the Fort Stewart artillery hit area.

“You could have fast vehicles come in from the ocean to drop bombs on Townsend and then use that same corridor to get to Fort Stewart without exploding the eardrums of people who might be living under the flight path,” Carlisle said.

Another project with readiness implications is the 2010 purchase of Elbow Swamp by the Georgia Alabama Land Trust, another Fort Stewart ACUB partner, to create a wetland mitigation bank, Carlisle said. Wetland credits are used to offset the environmental impacts of building new training facilities, such as shooting ranges, in existing wetlands. The facility already has several wetland credits saved from previous range projects that were not built due to funding shortages.

Fort Stewart Garrison Commander Col. Manuel Ramirez said efforts like these are a testament to Carlisle’s commitment to conservation.

“Larry and the team are deeply rooted in their conservation partners,” said Ramírez. “Together, they are working hard to protect the lands around Fort Stewart in continuation of our primary energy projection platform capability to provide our nation with ready and trained forces.”

Carlisle and his team ensure that the flora and fauna of Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield function in harmony with the facility’s primary mission of training our nation’s armed forces. Wildlife stewardship and land conservation efforts make this possible. However, at the end of the day, Carlisle emphasized that while the goal is to conserve the ecosystem here, he wants the public to know that they can come see the wonders of nature here.

“All they need to do is get a permit from iSportsman,” he said. “You buy a hunting permit or a fishing permit or just a recreational permit to pick blueberries and bird watch if people are interested in seeing how beautiful this landscape is. Many people are surprised that it is a military installation. They think it’s just a barren landscape until they get here and realize there are so many threatened and endangered species here, so many state-listed species, intact longleaf pine wiregrass ecosystem, that’s very rare these days. They can come see for themselves.”

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