University of Southern Mississippi biologists studying the effects
of training exercises on the water sources leaving Camp Shelby say
the military is running one clean operation.
at water that has its source at Shelby and make sure that training
they're doing there doesn't hurt that water - and it doesn't,"
said Dr. George Pessoney, a professor of biology at Southern Miss
who, along with two other teams, studies the aquatic health of the
camp's seven streams originating from the site.
Funded by the
Mississippi Military Department since the mid 90s, Pessoney's team
assesses the quality of the water while another team working in
the "Aquatic Biomonitoring Program" assesses the health
of the streams' inhabitants. Both monitoring programs were devised
to ensure environmental responsibility.
Much of the
land used for training at Camp Shelby is owned and maintained by
the U.S. Forest Service, which requires water testing four times
a year. The land comprising the training sites is massive - some
133,185 acres - and contains diverse habitats, including aquatic,
wetland and terrestrial components.
While no stream
courses through the training sites, at least seven streams start
there and empty into Black Creek, which has been federally designated
as a "Wild and Scenic River." From there, water originating
at Shelby finds its way into the Pascagoula River Basin, a large
free-flowing system that empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
Since the Army
National Guard does everything from maneuver tanks to fire rocket
launchers on those grounds, scrutinizing the environment is crucial.
U.S. Forest Service regulations, much of the need for testing arises
from the effort to keep good relations with "our hosts and
our downstream neighbors," said Capt. Robert Lemire, Natural
Resources Manager at Camp Shelby.
imperative that we remain watchful of environmental problems as
they might arise," Lemire said. "Our Water Quality and
Aquatic Biomonitoring Programs help us meet that need."
Dr. Fred Howell,
professor of biology at Southern Miss, leads a team of students
that studies the health of macroinvertebrates - such as aquatic
insects - living in the training site streams. Using a data collection
method from the Environmental Protection Agency, Howell and his
team evaluate the biological integrity of streams by evaluating
the ecologic health of the macroinvertebrate communities. This gives
the team an idea of the relative well-being of a stream's drainage
area through time, Howell said.
of any training or construction capable of altering downstream or
off-site aquatic habitats will be reflected in the data," he
said. "This could include increased sedimentation, organic
enrichment or toxic contaminants."
if a serious problem exists within the stream, such as toxic metal
contamination, the system will lose species and become more simplified
through time, meaning species could be both reduced in number and
suffer from a less functional role in the ecosystem. This evidence
would be reflected in their analysis, Howell said.
or absence of certain species at the sample site can indicate whether
or not a stream is healthy. "This concept is critically important
in assessing streams because it allows us to speculate about the
root of the problem," Howell said.
according to Howell, has always done an impeccable job of keeping
its training area environmentally clean. Located 12 miles south
of Hattiesburg, Camp Shelby is one of the nation's largest mobilization
sites, training more than 100,000 troops annually. Twenty-seven
of Camp Shelby's 65 training areas are considered "special"
training sites. These include a 14,000 acre high explosive impact
area, three parachute drop zones, 17 mortar firing points and 114
field artillery firing points.
barrage of activity and the subsequent impact on the surrounding
environment, the streams have been shown through the university's
research to be of top quality, meeting the state's environmental
"The burden of proof is on the military department to show
they are good stewards of the land. And I challenge anyone to compare
the quality of water on these training sites to surrounding areas.
You don't see cans and trash in the streams, as you see on public
lands sometimes. These are some of the cleanest lands anywhere."
Each year Southern
Miss's contract with the MDD is up for renewal, Howell said. When
added together, he said these two contracts have amounted to about
$1.5 million over the last five years. "That's money paid in
the form of salaries to faculty, graduate students, expenses for
the project," he added.
provide real data that can be readily understood by concerned citizens,
both programs are also conducted at Camp McCain in Elliott, a Mississippi
Army National Guard training site that covers almost 13,000 acres.
collected and archived from these programs can be compared not only
to recent data, but also with data from the same streams taken 100
years from now, Howell said.
Using the university
to provide this and similar programs, Lemire said, gives the MMD
a constant pool of potential workers, both permanent and temporary.
of the students use these data sets in their graduate research and
these efforts often result in extramural research that might otherwise
get buried," he said. "By the time that some of these
students get to us, they not only have a good idea of what we are
about, they are trained in the tools and techniques needed for our
"It's a good deal for everyone, and we work hard to keep good
working relations with our universities."