Army training area a sanctuary for grasslands creatures and plants

It’s been called the most violent spot on Fort Lewis. No other place on the 86,000-acre Army post is as heavily used for live-fire training as the post’s largest artillery impact area, or AIA, north of the Nisqually River and west of the tiny town of Roy.

The remote target zone is littered with so much old ammunition that post officials don’t allow people to set foot on the ground unless they go through unexploded ordnance training.

Even so, the 91st Division Prairie, a 7,000-acre remnant of native South Sound grasslands, is a sanctuary for four species of native creatures now so rare they may be eligible for federal Endangered Species Act protection.

Fort Lewis officials and wildlife conservationists would like to prevent that. Two years ago, the Department of Defense began paying The Nature Conservancy to help ensure the survival off-post of populations of two varieties of butterfly and a bird and a gopher. It’s called the Army Compatible Use Buffer program, or ACUB.

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