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Poinsett Range: the environmental mission

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Diana M. Cossaboom
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The Poinsett Electronic Combat Range, previously called Poinsett Bombing Range, opened in 1952 to be used as a real-world training range for military personnel.

The 12,500 acre training range, just 20 minutes from Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, is used by military members from all branches to fly sorties and practice targeting with the munitions they carry, as well as ground training including tactical air control party, explosive ordnance disposal, and survival, evasion, resistance and escape training.

The responsibilities that go with supporting the flying mission, however, go way beyond a traffic control tower and pilots. Using the land as a range meant Shaw AFB also had to undertake the responsibility to care for the land and all wildlife that resides there.

Ronald June, the 20th Civil Engineer Squadron chief of natural and cultural resources, and four other experts were assigned to regulate the natural and cultural resources on base and the range.

Their goals include re-establishing the endangered species of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, restoring native plant species to Poinsett, including the Longleaf Pine, and ensuring the health of the entire ecosystem.

Monitoring the ecosystem for the range includes ensuring the plants and animals in the area are healthy. When something adverse happens, the smaller animals and plants are the first to be affected.

In 2001, there were only five clusters of Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavity trees at Poinsett. Recent counts have reached 27 clusters.

The ecosystem for Poinsett is healthy and the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers that reside in Poinsett are unaffected by the flying mission.
In fact, through habitat management improvements, they have been able to foster growth for the woodpecker population in Poinsett.

"I like the unique relationship we have with the Air Force training mission where we can manage the natural resources, but at the same time accomplish our missions needs and goals," June said.

Since another mission of the range includes shooting thousands of bullets and dropping bombs, which can be a potential hazard, there are more steps that need to be taken in order to keep the animals and the people who work there safe.

"(Explosive ordnance disposal) is responsible to clear any explosive hazard out on Poinsett," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Nielsen, a 20th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal journeyman. "When we do range clearance, our primary munitions are typically training bombs; however, because Poinsett is also an emergency drop range, we may be called out to clear munitions that may have been dropped there due to an emergency with the aircraft."

Once determined to not be hazardous, the munitions are then turned over to the Poinsett staff who secures them until they're turned into scrap metal.

"Natural resources integrates really well with the Air Force training mission," June said. "There are not a lot of ground maneuvers that could cause harm, just small target areas. Most of the range is a buffer area in case something goes wrong, so that leaves all these natural forested areas to manage."

The natural resources team not only keeps the ecosystem healthy, but makes sure the area is suitable for munitions to be dropped safely. One of the most effective tools used to accomplish this is prescribed fire.

Prescribed fire is used in order to reduce the excess vegetation and fuels on the ground at Poinsett. This helps keep the range open since it eliminates the flammable material in the areas where munitions may stray and have the potential to start a fire.

"The natural resources team at Shaw Air Force Base and Poinsett Range has been able to integrate seamlessly and work together with Shaw (AFB) range operations to accomplish the mission of the Air Force," June said.

Even though Poinsett is a large area to cover, it has been able to support the Air Force mission while creating a healthy habitat to support the environmental mission of the Department of Defense.