By Andrew Revelos
The gently flowing stream and its small pools look like a pristine slice of nature one might encounter at a park or preserve, but the low-lying area in the woods along Magnetometer Field at Naval Support Facility (NSF) Indian Head’s Stump Neck Annex received makeover from the Environmental Department along with a mission: provide critical habitat for local flora and fauna such as the spotted turtle, and protect base infrastructure and the Chesapeake Bay watershed by slowing down storm water runoff.
The wetland, completed in November after a yearlong planning effort, already looks as though it was designed by Mother Nature and will blend even further into the landscape when spring arrives in a few months. This is no coincidence, said Seth Berry, NSF Indian Head natural resources manager: the project mimics one of nature’s most prolific wetland engineers, the beaver.
For millennia beavers have shaped the environment across North American by damming streams and creating pools that host a wide variety of wildlife. While beavers can also become a nuisance in some areas and are not uncommon at Stump Neck, a similar strategy in this particular spot promised to not only create critical habitat, but also protect installation infrastructure like downstream culverts.
“The main thing was to create wildlife habitat, simulate a beaver pond complex and use minimal earth disturbance,” said Berry. “The berms were tied into the surrounding topography with wooden spillovers to hold the water [during storm events]. We put a clay layer on the base of the pools to help with the sandy soil.”
Inside each of the three pools, environmental specialists reutilized logs cleared during construction to provide cover for wildlife and especially the spotted turtle. “We haven’t had many recently on this base, but it is a species that is under review for Endangered Species Act listing,” said Berry. “The Department of Defense can help avoid that by increasing numbers on installations.”
To help open the forest canopy and allow light for native seeds planted along the pools, specialists girdled a few nearby gum trees. Those trees will die, but remain standing for nesting wildlife like wood peckers and wood ducks. Core fiber, a net-like fabric, holds soil in place and protects the banks and the native seed mix, but will slowly decompose into the soil as the plants take root.
A similar project featuring four pools is in the works this year for the other side of Magnetometer Field. Both NSF Indian Head and its sister base, NSF Dahlgren completed several constructed storm water wetlands and habitat restorations in the last few years. At Indian Head, the wetlands compliment the installation’s “living shoreline” constructed along portions of the Potomac River and Mattawoman Creek. The projects are a small part of the Navy’s broad efforts to increase its environmental resiliency and stewardship, as well as being a good neighbor to wildlife and to communities that host installations.