MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma isn’t just the busiest air station in the Marine Corps and the heart of Marine aviation training. The air station manages nearly 1.2 million acres of land, which includes over one million acres of training ranges (the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range and Barry M. Goldwater Range - West) and approximately 1,500 acres of agricultural lands. With the land in constant use, MCAS Yuma’s Conservation Office is in charge of taking care of the land and protecting the wildlife that live there.
The MCAS Yuma Conservation Office has documented over 150 animal species on its ranges. Additionally, some species are endemic to the Sonoran desert, making MCAS Yuma’s ranges among the few places they can be found. These species include: the Sonoran pronghorn, desert tortoise, Sonoran desert toad and flat-tailed horn lizard.
While all wildlife found on the ranges are offered some level of protection, the Sonoran pronghorn and the Mojave desert tortoise have special protection under the Endangered Species Act. Thanks to the special protection of those and other species found on MCAS Yuma ranges, most of the species that were present over 60 years ago are still present today and doing well.
To ensure that MCAS Yuma protects the wildlife and natural resources effectively, the Conservation Office develops and implements Integrated Natural Resource Management Plans (INRMPs) – which make sure that the military mission does not negatively impact wildlife populations on both of its ranges. The plans are developed in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
In addition to the INRMPs, the MCAS Yuma Conservation Office staff guide and advise the units aboard MCAS Yuma and provide briefings to incoming units to ensure the military training on the ranges will not degrade the training ranges or negatively impact the wildlife.
In 2010, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission recognized MCAS Yuma as Conservation Organization of the Year for their outstanding contributions to the conservation of Arizona’s wildlife and natural resources. And in 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded MCAS Yuma the Military Conservation Partnership Award in recognition of the installation’s outstanding management of wildlife and natural resources on BMGR-W.
As an added bonus to the local and visiting community, MCAS Yuma’s Conservation Office provides public access to approximately 75% of the Barry M. Goldwater Range – West (BMGR-W). Recreational activities such as camping, hiking, wildlife viewing, recreational shooting and more are allowed at the public access locations to those persons having a valid range permit.
According to Randy English, the MCAS Yuma Conservation Manager, the MCAS Yuma Conservation Office issues about 8,000 recreational permits each year for the BMGR-W.
The Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range (CMAGR) is not open to the public due to the nature of the training that occurs there. Some training that occurs regularly at the CMAGR includes: daily aviation training missions, combat pre-deployment training, indirect fire from artillery and mortars.
With great power comes great responsibility, and with great ranges MCAS Yuma’s Conservation Office makes sure that the Marines can train on the ranges, civilians can visit the ranges, and the wildlife and environment can thrive on the ranges.