BY JODI PETERSON
Sometimes when you finish one key project, a cascade of other work then falls into place. That was the case at Beale Air Force Base in California’s Central Valley, when a massive plan for dealing with invasive weeds finally got pushed across the finish line, enabling other efforts to move forward from prescribed burns to improved livestock grazing.
The key contributor to that plan was Maia Lipschutz, a biologist formerly with Colorado State University’s Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands, who is stationed at Beale. Maia had worked at Beale Air Force Base for three years, helping the base control invasive species, when in 2019 she took on a big challenge – to complete an Environmental Assessment for Non-native and Noxious Plant Species Management that had been started but not completed. Without that final assessment, many environmental projects at Beale were on hold.
As Maia began to investigate the potential risks and impacts of controlling invasive plants with grazing, prescribed burning, and chemicals, she had to do a huge amount of research. “I learned a lot about herbicides,” she said, “and I had to remember all this college chemistry I had forgotten.” It took her about a year to gather the necessary information, write analyses, and produce a 1,500-page document.
The final base-wide environmental document allows Beale AFB to move forward efficiently with controlling invasive plants across the entire installation, and without having to analyze each individual weed control project separately. Beale has several harmful non-native species, such as yellow starthistle, which attracts birds and thus increases the risk of collisions with military aircraft and medusahead, which crowds out native plants and livestock forage.
Controlling such plants benefits the base by reducing threats to the military mission and improving habitat for compliance with laws protecting threatened and endangered species. It also benefits neighbors, because fewer weeds spread to properties adjoining the base. Removing invasive plants along creeks also helps fish, by making it easier for protected salmon and steelhead to swim upstream for spawning.
Beyond weed control, having that final plan means projects can move forward. Maia’s diverse experience (in technical document writing, invasive plant management, and federal law and Air Force policy), coupled with her drive to improve natural resource conservation, ultimately resulted in several tools becoming available for programmatic use on the installation, according to Eli Rose, a natural resources program manager at Beale.
For example, without an environmental assessment in place, Beale’s wildland fire team could not carry out much-needed prescribed burns. Once the document was finalized, the team was able to conduct a 2,100-acre prescribed burn in June 2021, one of the largest ever in the state. Local fire agencies participated and learned more about using prescribed fire. The burn also reduced the fire hazard for neighboring properties. “The base is now approaching the second year of a prescribed fire program to reduce fire fuels, manage invasive weeds, and help promote the establishment of native plants,” said Rose. “Fire is just one of the tools that Maia’s efforts on this EA have made more available to Beale AFB managers.”
For her work on the environmental assessment, Maia Lipschutz was honored in March 2022 with CEMML’s 2021 Outstanding Individual Achievement Award. A wildlife management major from Humboldt State University in northern California, she has a Masters in Rangeland and Wildlife Science from Texas A&M Kingsville. Shortly after graduating, she was hired as a CEMML invasive species biologist. “I have grown a lot as an employee at CEMML,” she said. “My writing skills improved dramatically, and I’ve learned a lot about environmental regulations that I didn’t know before.”
The domino effect of her excellent work continues: the notice that Maia gained for her efforts on the environmental assessment recently led her to a high-level federal position overseeing the removal of spent military munitions on the base. CEMML’s loss is now the Air Force’s gain.