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Balcones Canyonlands NWR fire program receives Fort Hood award

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge fire management program

The U.S. Army’s Fort Hood Military Post leadership recently honored the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge fire management program for their work on the post. Pictured (clockwise from left) are Major Gen. Scott L. Efflandt, refuge firefighter Brendon McNeil, Fort Hood Fire Chief Sergio Campos, Fort Hood agronomist Carla Picinich, refuge fire module leader Kathryn Sebes, Fort Hood environmental protection specialist Scott Summers, refuge Assistant Fire Management Officer Brett Idol, and Command Sgt. Major Adam S. Nash. Photo courtesy of USFWS

The U.S. Army’s Fort Hood Military Post recently honored the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge’s fire management program with the Hood Hero Award for Team Excellence.

“Since the fall of 2017, the Balcones fire crew has been working with Fort Hood’s Directorate of Public Works’ Natural and Cultural Resources Management Branch and the Directorate of Emergency Services’ Fire and Emergency Services Branch, implementing prescribed burns across Fort Hood’s training areas,” according to Brett Idol, the refuge’s assistant fire management officer. “For Fort Hood, the goal was to fill shortfalls in prescribed fire personnel at the installation and to enhance prescribed fire across Fort Hood’s open expanse of training areas.”

Fort Hood has the largest contiguous natural landscape in its area at 218,823 acres, providing an important undeveloped landscape to numerous species of native plants and wildlife. This includes two songbirds, the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo. The black-capped vireo was recently taken off the Endangered Species List thanks in part to recovery efforts at Fort Hood.

Through this innovative partnership, refuge fire crews conduct prescribed fires on Fort Hood to restore and revitalize the landscape and reduce the potential of large catastrophic wildfires. 

“The Texas Hill Country, with Fort Hood land being a part of that, has evolved under a regular, recurring wildland fire cycle,” Idol added in an email. “Prescribed fire plays a vital role at Fort Hood in order to maintain open spaces for military training operations and to reduce the buildup of vegetation that could contribute to large catastrophic wildfires.”

He continued that, without the prescribed burns, the potential for a large wildfire would not only be a huge detriment to the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo habitat but also interrupt training for soldiers for an extended period of time and cause problems for nearby communities due to the smoke.

In the past few years, refuge crews have increased the acres burned from just 2,800 to nearly 40,000, improving habitat and training grounds.

And the fire management team isn’t just for Fort Hood.

“We have a very active prescribed fire program, not only at the Balcones refuge, but we also support other land management agencies, or agencies with a land management division, throughout the state of Texas and the country,” Idol said. “When not conducting prescribed burns, we provide the refuge and surrounding area with wildfire protection and response. We have agreements with various municipal and volunteer fire departments around the refuge, including Marble Falls. These agreements allows us to assist one another across jurisdictional boundaries. We work and train together to help one another protect life, property, and natural resources from potentially destructive, uncontrolled wildfires.”

The Balcones Canyonlands NWR fire crew is a nationally qualified Type 2 Wildland Fire Module. The primary mission of the module is to provide an innovative, safe, highly mobile, logistically independent, and versatile fire module with a commitment to achieving diverse fire and fuels management objectives, Idol added.

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge is located east of Marble Falls along the Burnet-Travis county lines. The headquarters is at 24518 RR 1431 between Marble Falls and Lago Visa.