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NEWS | May 5, 2022

Idaho Guard combines care for environment, youth education

By Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur, Idaho Army National Guard

BOISE, Idaho – More than 180 seventh graders experienced science through a hands-on field trip at the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area at the Idaho National Guard’s Orchard Combat Training Center April 28-29.

The Idaho National Guard partnered with Boise State University, the University of Idaho, the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission and Idaho’s Bureau of Land Management to bring science education to Heritage Middle School students through its Adopt a Scientist program.

“The focus of the Idaho Adopt a Scientist Program is to create an environment where middle and high school students can participate in local research to promote conservation and management of Idaho wildlife and their habitats,” said Zoe Duran, biologist with the Idaho Army National Guard Environmental Management Office.

The program also increases understanding of the Idaho National Guard’s environmental stewardship and connects students and Idaho researchers with field trips throughout the year at the OCTC.

Students researched and tested the soil and learned about biochemistry, fire dynamics and how to restore sagebrush. They looked at herbivores and the local vegetation they eat to remain healthy. Students studied prey such as black-tailed jackrabbits and the raptors flying above that eat them to complete a full circle education. BSU professors and graduate students, University of Idaho professors and the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission staff taught the lessons.

Guided by Idaho Army National Guard Soldiers, Students used unmanned aerial vehicles and GPS technology to track and study raptors.

“It’s important for students to understand species like the black-tailed jackrabbit and its dynamic across the landscape,” said Duran. “They are really important prey species for golden eagles. BLM brought a Swainson’s hawk and a prairie falcon.”

The NCA is home to the largest and most diverse population of breeding raptors in North America. It is one of the only places where military training, extensive research, public land use and livestock co-exist on the same land. 

Biologists from the Idaho Army National Guard EMO have helped manage military training and conducted research to protect the environment and limit land disturbance since 1987.

“Preserving and enhancing the environment is one of the most important things we do in the Idaho National Guard,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Garshak, adjutant general of Idaho and commander, Idaho National Guard. “The reason we have a military is to preserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens and to enjoy the freedom of living in this beautiful environment, state and country. We aren’t just taking care of the environment so that we can train on it. We actually train so that we can protect this beautiful environment.”

Idaho’s OCTC is a premier joint combined arms training site for Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen from around the country, with its 143,000 acres of terrain, world-class ranges and four-season climate. 

The Idaho Army National Guard EMO works closely with the BLM to support environmental stewardship and sustainable military training.