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Melrose Air Force Range: more than a training range

Texas A&M researches capture audio data

Brian Pierce and Sarah Turner, researchers from Texas A & M University, check data on a passive automated acoustic monitor on Melrose Air Force Range. These monitors capture audio data 24 hours per day, seven days a week, to assist the team in finding rare species. (Courtesy Photo)

Melrose Air Force Range pond

After torrential rainfall, a pond forms on Melrose Air Force Range. This helps provide drinking water and habitat for many of the species of wildlife on the range. (Courtesy Photo)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Melrose Air Force Range is not only Air Force Special Operations Command’s only training range used to train our special operations teams, but it is an environmental preserve as well.

“MAFR was established in 1952 as a bombing range with only 10,000 acres,” said Dr. Charles Dixon, Natural Resource Specialist for Cannon Air Force Base and MAFR. “It expanded to 60,000 acres in 1985. [New Mexico] Game and Fish Department has stated MAFR is doing great things for the environment, especially the lesser prairie chickens.”

Brian Pierce, associate director of Texas A&M Natural Resource Institute, spoke about how the public may have concerns about the potential for the Air Force to do more harm than good to the land. However, Pierce says this is not the case. In his research, he’s found that the Air Force works diligently to preserve the land and encourage the growth of native flora and fauna.

Nicknamed the “Prairie Dogs,” a team from Texas A&M University comes out every few months to survey the range and document any changes that occur.

The animals thrive more on the range than on private land because there is plenty of food with minimal harassment and disturbances. The Air Force also does controlled burns to remove invasive species and allow the natural flora to thrive.

“The military really has done a great job with the range,” said Pierce. “It is maintained with the natural environment thriving, which is not only beneficial for realistic training, but it also is great for the wildlife.”

The team utilizes passive automated acoustic monitors and cameras to complete much of the survey data. The devices record audio and visuals around the clock to assist in the data collection process.

“These devices allow us to monitor 24/7 and collect more data than using researchers only,” Pierce said. “They also allow us to leave a minimal footprint on the environment while having no negative impact on training.”

The Air Force also uses GPS tracking to monitor vehicle movements and ensure safety for personnel and fauna on the range.

“Since it is a training range, safety is always a concern,” said Dixon. “The new technology allows us to do our jobs safely and efficiently, while ensuring the wildlife and their habitat are not disturbed.”

Pierce explained how MAFR has come a long way over the years toward preserving the species that call the range home. What started off as a collection of over-grazed cattle ranches is now a thriving environmental preserve where many vulnerable species such as the lesser prairie chicken, golden eagles and burrowing owls are making a comeback.