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Eglin's Natural Resources Manager earns DOD environmental award

Steve Seiber, Jackson Guard chief, was the recipient of the Gen. Thomas D. White Natural Resources Conservation Award (Individual) for 2009.  U.S. Air Force photo/Scott Moorman.

Steve Seiber, Natural Resources Program manager at Jackson Guard, is the recipient of the 2010 Secretary of Defense Environmental Award for Natural Resources Conservation for his outstanding achievements to conserve and sustain natural and cultural resources entrusted to the DOD. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott Moorman)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The Department of Defense honored one of Eglin's own at a ceremony held at the Pentagon today.

The 96th Civil Engineer Group's Steve Seiber received the 2010 Secretary of Defense Environmental Award for Natural Resources Conservation for his outstanding achievements to conserve and sustain natural and cultural resources entrusted to the DOD.

Mr. Seiber, Natural Resources Program manager at Jackson Guard, was selected by a panel of judges representing federal and state agencies, academia and the public for the award, established in 1962.

"This award confirms that the men and women of Jackson Guard are making a difference and we are doing an exceptional job in managing Eglin's natural resources in support of the military mission," Mr. Seiber said. "My name may appear on the plaque, but this was truly a team effort."

Under Mr. Seiber's leadership, Jackson Guard has conserved a thriving habitat for Eglin's native species, striking a unique balance between the tranquility of old-growth long-leaf pine forests and sugar-white sand beaches with the development, testing and deployment of lethal air power.

"Steve has done a phenomenal job managing Jackson Guard," said Col. David Maharrey, 96 CEG commander. "He has orchestrated the resurgence of two endangered species, while only a handful of natural resource managers can only hope to participate in the recovery of single species."

Colonel Maharrey said he credits Mr. Seiber for managing the resurgence of the red-cockaded woodpecker, meeting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery five years ahead of schedule, and the recent USFWS proposed reclassification of the Okaloosa darter fish from endangered to threatened.

By overseeing a progressive fire plan, which included 112,000 acres of prescribed burning last year, along with drilling more than 200 nest cavities, removing invasive sand pines and planting 750,000 long-leaf pine seedlings a year, Mr. Seiber created a thriving red-cockaded woodpecker habitat that saw active clusters increase from 390 to 420 and breeding pairs increase from 347 to 371 in one season. This increase exceeded USFWS recovery targets by 7 percent, marking the first red-cockaded woodpecker population to reach this goal on a property under single ownership.

Christened a "National Recovery Champion" by the USFWS, Mr. Seiber implemented an Okaloosa Darter Recovery Plan that boosted darter population from an estimated 1,500 fish to 300,000, primarily through an erosion control program that rehabilitated 497 acres of highly eroded borrow pits, unpaved stream crossings, and more than 2,000 miles of clay roads leading to military test areas. This resulted in the massive reduction from approximately 60,000 tons of soil lost into darter streams, found almost exclusively on Eglin, to less than 1,000 tons lost annually -- the primary reason for the darter's recovery and marking it as the first vertebrate species to be downlisted by the USFWS on DOD lands.

Mr. Seiber's innovative concepts have become the model for military installations and land management agencies throughout the United States. He developed a "real-time" Integrated Natural Resources Plan, which is being implemented throughout the Air Force. He also oversaw the development of an "endangered species consultation" database that provides 46th Test Wing planners current information to help them avoid conflicts by steering missions away from environmentally sensitive areas.

"Understanding how it all works together is essential for us to preserve the base's natural resources, while accomplishing the military mission," Mr. Seiber said. "It's more than just drilling holes in long-leaf pines or burning more than 100,000 acres a year. It takes a strong team that includes regulators, researchers and contractors to be recognized as the best in the business."

The University of Tennessee alum said he hopes his legacy of forest restoration on Eglin will continue long after he's gone and the partnerships he has helped to build will continue to improve teamwork and coordination with military mission planners.

"We've come a long way since I started working at Jackson Guard in 1972," he said. "Watching the long-leaf pine forest and the other species grow, while realizing drastic improvements in mission capabilities -- that is my greatest award."