NEWS | Jan. 15, 2021

JBSA biologists, fire crew help clear invasive species at JBSA-Camp Bullis

By David DeKunder 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

From December to January, Joint Base San Antonio partners helped to protect native vegetation and provide a safer training environment for service members by clearing out a section of JBSA-Camp Bullis from an invasive plant species and cedar debris.

The 802nd Civil Engineer Squadron and the JBSA Natural Resources office led a work crew of 12 members who cleared a one-acre site of golden bamboo and cedar mulch chunks at a training area on JBSA-Camp Bullis.

The crew consisted of five members of the 802nd CES/JBSA Natural Resources office, three members of the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute and four firefighters from the JBSA Wildland Support Module, a fire crew of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center located at JBSA-Randolph.

Jim Peterson, 802nd CES/JBSA Natural Resources office biological scientist, said the work crew started chopping down the golden bamboo by hand Dec. 2. Utilizing clearing saws and lopping shears, he said it took the work crew three weeks to cut the golden bamboo down.

Peterson said the presence of golden bamboo is detrimental to the natural habitat at JBSA-Camp Bullis because it grows and reproduces rapidly, preventing the growth of native plants which are a food source for wildlife.

“We’re just trying to get rid of the bamboo, but still leave beneficial vegetation for animals that are out here,” Peterson said.

According to the Texas Invasive Species Institute, golden bamboo is a non-native perennial reed plant capable of growing as high as 40 feet in thick monocultures, which are areas of single plant species. It was brought to the U.S. in 1882 as an import for ornamental purposes and has been used as a privacy, sound, and light barrier in gardens.

Peterson said the area where the bamboo was cut and removed was the site of an old farmstead before it became part of JBSA-Camp Bullis.

Since JBSA-Camp Bullis is located at the headwaters of Salado Creek, which flows through San Antonio, including JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, Peterson said it is important to control invasive species such as golden bamboo so it's seed will not get into the creek and spread further.

“It’s important that we take care of this at the headwaters of Salado Creek, and we do our part to help the community,” Peterson said.

Also at the site, work crews cleared out debris from mulched cedar trees, which were the result of a previous vegetation management plan. Peterson said the cedar mulch prohibits vegetation growth and prevents water from going into the ground, creating a barren landscape. Plus, cedar mulch left on the ground prohibits water from entering the recharge area of the Edwards Aquifer, a main source of water for the City of San Antonio.

Peterson also said some of the cedar mulch chunks were quite large and could become a safety hazard for service members training in the area. 

The bamboo and cedar mulch cleared from the site in December was put into several piles to be burned.

Work crews burned the materials Jan. 7 through 9 in an air curtain incinerator utilized by the JBSA Wildland Support Module and designed to burn land-clearing debris. During the process, smoke particles are trapped and reburned, reducing the smoke particles to an acceptable limit permitted under Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

Peterson said eight piles of golden bamboo and cedar mulch, each measuring 30 feet across, 6 feet high and 10 to 15 feet deep, were burned in the air curtain incinerator.

The effort to clear the golden bamboo will continue as Peterson said it will take two to three years, with regular treatment, to stop any regrowth of the bamboo that has been cleared out.

The project to clear and burn the golden bamboo, and remove the cedar mulch at JBSA-Camp Bullis is the first time an air curtain incinerator has been utilized at JBSA, Peterson said, adding that the performance of the incinerator could determine whether it can be utilized in future operations to clear and remediate other areas of invasive plant species and debris at JBSA.

“It was great to have all the people come together as a team,” Peterson said. “The positive results were readily visible. All around, it was a really good project for us and for the environment.”