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Vandenberg receives conservation award

U.S. Fish and Wildlife representatives and Col. Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing commander, stand with Vandenberg’s award-winning conservation team May 4, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The conservation team received the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Partner of the Year Award for their efforts to conserve and restore endangered species and their habitats. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ian Dudley/Released)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife representatives and Col. Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing commander, stand with Vandenberg’s award-winning conservation team May 4, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The conservation team received the 2015 Military Conservation Partner Award for excellence and exceptional leadership in natural resource conservation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ian Dudley/Released)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Vandenberg recently received the 2015 Military Conservation Partner Award for excellence and exceptional leadership in natural resource conservation, May 4, 2015.

Working in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is critical for the preservation of the multitude of threatened species on base.

"Vandenberg has more threatened and endangered species than any other property in the continental United States," said Rhys Evans, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron natural resources lead. "We have done some great projects recently, like the dune restoration at Surf Beach; we recently restored 50 acres of dunes. We also do other habitat restoration in conjunction with, and in support of, the military mission."

The military is obligated to follow the same standards as national parks, while maintaining mission effectiveness.

"We are charged by Congress to follow the same rules that the national park service does," said Evans. "We have to follow the endangered species act. We manage the military mission and support the command structure, but at the same time we have to maintain the protection and recovery of endangered and threatened species. It's important for people to understand that the Air Force cares."

During the award ceremony Col. Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing commander, stressed the importance of good stewardship for the land.

"Whether we are launching rockets, doing minor construction projects, cleaning up unexploded ordinance, or someday even landing rockets back on our location, we are going to keep the environment in mind," said Balts. "We know we are just borrowing this land for a short time in its geological history, and we want to make sure we do that right."

Despite the challenges of maintaining an operational Air Force base, Vandenberg is setting the standard for conservation on military lands.

"Vandenberg is leading the way for proactive conservation efforts on military lands," said Alexandra Pitts, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deputy regional director. "The base has supported threatened and endangered species recovery, actively leading and contributing to habitat restoration activities and building the scientific foundation for future conservation projects on and off base."