ESTCP 2016 Project-of-the-Year Award for Resource Conservation and Resiliency

The Department of Defense (DoD) manages millions of acres of land for the purposes of training troops and testing weapons platforms to ensure military readiness. These lands are very unique among federal land management agencies in that very large and inaccessible parcels have been set aside as impact areas for various types of munitions and explosive ordnance. These lands are highly suitable as habitat for many threatened, endangered, and at-risk (TER-S) avian species across the country. DoD has both regulatory and stewardship responsibilities to manage and monitor for many of these species, which has proven difficult due to the inability to access these restricted areas on the ground.

An ESTCP-funded project led by Dr. Richard Fischer of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center and Dr. Dave Buehler at the University of Tennessee aimed to assess the significance of inaccessible areas to TER-S bird populations. They have addressed the accessibility issue by using an autonomous aerial acoustic recording system (AAARS) composed of a weather balloon that transports an electronic payload over otherwise unreachable areas. The key functions of the payload are to record the vocalizations of the target avian species, provide tracking telemetry to spatially correlate the audio data and track the flight path of the system, control the altitude of the system, and reliably and safely recover the system.

The benefits of this effort are widespread and will have a broad impact on the DoD community. Implementation of the AAARS will enable natural resources staff for the first time to inventory which species are present in inaccessible areas, estimate relative abundance and density of these species, and track status of the populations over time. This project will provide information that will significantly improve DoD's ability to comply with the MBTA, NEPA, Executive Order 13186, the Endangered Species Act, and where applicable, the Migratory Bird Rule. Furthermore, monitoring TER-S in formerly inaccessible areas will directly support the objectives of the recent DoD Coordinated Bird Monitoring Plan that recommends focused monitoring on species that have the potential for future impacts to the military mission.

For this significant work, Dr. Fischer, Dr. Buehler and their project team received the 2016 ESTCP Project-of-the-Year Award for Resource Conservation and Resiliency for their project titled Demonstration and Implementation of Autonomous Aerial Acoustic Recording Systems to Inventory DoD Installation Impact Areas for Threatened, Endangered, and Species at Risk Bird Populations.

Project Team

  • Dr. David A. Buehler, University of Tennessee
  • Dr. Richard A. Fischer, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center
  • John B. Wilkerson, University of Tennessee
  • Stacy K. Worley, University of Tennessee
  • David R. Smith, University of Tennessee
  • Emily V. Hockman, University of Tennessee
  • Stephanie C. Prevost, University of Tennessee