Environmental engineers preserve natural resources at Hanscom

  • Published
  • By Lauren Russell
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – The 66th Civil Engineering Division here is collaborating with scientists from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, to protect and maintain natural resources on the installation.

The ongoing efforts are part of a larger Air Force-wide program to manage local natural ecosystems, such as plant and animal species, wetlands, and rivers, in a way that protects those ecosystems while minimizing the impact on the military’s ability to conduct its mission.

“If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists a species as threatened or endangered, it can put restrictions on how the Air Force conducts operations in that area,” said Scott Sheehan, 66 CED environmental engineer who oversees the installation’s national resource program at Hanscom. “Our long-term goal is to maintain and improve those habitats while protecting those species, and lead to their removal from the endangered species list.”

In June 2021, 66 CED officials concluded there were significant resources at Hanscom; specifically around the wetlands on base and the coastal zones near the 66th Force Support Squadron-run Fourth Cliff family recreation facility in Humarock, Massachusetts.

Environmental DNA, or eDNA, samples taken in both areas confirmed the presence of blue-spotted salamanders, a state-protected species, giving Hanscom’s environmental engineers the green light to continue surveying the locations.  

“Living things leave ‘fingerprints’ in their habitats, so collecting eDNA samples from soil and water allows us to quickly see which species are present,” said Christi Gabriel, a natural resource specialist from the Colorado State University Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands. 

In March 2022, biologists from an environmental consultant company began setting minnow traps in the wetlands on base in the first attempts to pinpoint the salamanders’ location.

“Once we do that, we can determine the best practices to protect and monitor those locations long term,” said Sheehan.

He said the efforts to locate the blue-spotted salamanders are just the first step in keeping Hanscom’s Installation National Resource Plan up-to-date with threatened or endangered species.

“We haven’t found the exact species of salamander yet, but our search will continue into the spring,” he said.

Officials may conduct future surveys to locate other species of amphibians and reptiles on the installation, as well as monitor the movement of invasive species near the base.

“We want to be conscious about our responsibility as environmental stewards to protect the habitats here,” said Renata Welch, 66 CED environmental manager. “We’re going to continue building our relationships with state and federal agencies, and partner with them to do what we can to preserve the resources around us.”

If Hanscom personnel see a blue-spotted salamander, Sheehan said they should not touch it or pick it up. Instead, they should report the sighting to the 66 CED Customer Service Desk at 781-225-2990.