Have you ever seen scalloped woods? They have them at Ft. Meade near Laurel and Bill Harmeyer thinks it's great.
Ft. Meade has about 9,000 acres of woods and fields, most of it reserved for training exercises and shooting ranges. Behind the targets at the ranges the woods look like corn rows.The bullets cut through and chop off the scrub oak and pine at about three feet. Between targets the trees grow to normal height.
The chopped-off trees make "perfect browse for deer," said Harmeyer, who as wildlife biologist at Meade is responsible for making sure the fish and animals get a fair shake.
Wildlife biologist on a Army post? Yes indeed. It's a common phenomenon these days, at big military areas across the country.
The military has been upgrading wildlife control at post since 1960, Pentagon officials said. That's when the Sykes Act was passed by Congress, authorizing the Defense Department to carry out programs of fish, wildlife and game conservation on military property. Today 237 millitary installations have some form of land-and-water management programs.
It got more serious a few years back when the Endangered Species Act was passed, requiring federal agencies to take no action that would adversely impact an endangered or threatened species or disturb its habitats.
Harmeyer came to Meade in 1975 and was installed in a battered quonset hut in the engineering department. His digs are less than elegant, but otherwise he has an enviable array of manpower and material to use.
Last year, for example, he decided that duck habitat was lacking on base. He found some young soldiers in an engineering unit who were digging trenches and then filled them up, putting in "stick time" as they learned how to use bulldozers and other heavy equipment.
Harmeyer pulled a few strings and next thing he knew he had more bulldozers and operators than he knew what to do with. They dug his duck potholes post haste.
Now Harmeyer has another unit putting together wood-duck nesting boxes out of scrap lumber.Harmeyer grew up in prime duck country north of Baltimore and he has an idea of what's needed to upgrade the duck population here.
His shed is full of the duck boxes, and the contraptions are tacked on to metal posts in swamps and marshes all around the base.
"You ought to be here in the spring," he said. "We get colonies out there in full dress, with their pants rolled up, out in the marsh checking the wood-duck boxes to see if they're being used. It's quite a sight."
In the next few weeks Harmeyer and his helpers will be starting their annual duck-banding operation, trapping wild ducks with a big net fired by three military rockets, then banding the birds to see if they return next year.
But it's not all ducks. This season Meade hunters shot 44 deer on base, down from 136 last year because Harmeyer switched to a bucks-only limitation. They bagged 1,690 squirrels, 612 doves, 65 rabbits, some quail and woodcock and five Canada geese.
In all, 6,650 man-days of hunting were logged at the post, where civilians are granted a free permit to hunt if they have passed a hunter-safety course or pass Harmeyer's safety exam.
There's fishing, too, where the Little Patuxent River runs through the backland. And trappers pursue muskrats, fox and raccoon.
Harmeyer has a number of projects working to keep the quality of the range up. He and his men planted 21 forage plots of millet, wheat, sorghum and other grains last year. They scooped out islands in th wetland for geese to roost on, they built nesting habitats for mallards, they cleared roads to create edges along which deer and other animals like to feed, they piled up berms to hold back water in the wetlands, they built hedgegrows and brush pile.
Harmeyer is hoping to introduce wild turkery and some type of pheasant to broaden the hunting appeal.
One question. When the firing ranges open up and troops blast away with their weapons all day, don't wild animals ever get hit?
No, said Col. David S. Meredith, the assistant base commander. "When those boys get out there and start setting up targets, rumbling in with the jeeps and making a racket, the animals are long gone."