MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS -- The Combat Center’s training areas are home to many forms of wildlife and hidden archaeological wonders. Conservation Law Enforcement Officers, Natural and Cultural Resources, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs, work to preserve these unique and irreplaceable entities aboard the base.
“The purpose of [CLEO] is to ensure the protection of natural and cultural resources,” said Richard Frausto, conservation law enforcement officer, Natural and Cultural Resources, NREA. “We have an agreement with the [United States] Fish and Wildlife Service to enforce regulations aboard the Combat Center.”
CLEO regularly performs patrols through the Combat Center’s more than 700,000 acres of desert terrain. While patrolling, the officers look out for poachers and scrappers whom may be looking to illegally obtain artifacts, endangered species or metal from expended munition casings and ordnance both exploded and unexploded.
“We perform range patrols to make sure there is no encroachment by those who may be looking to acquire metals illegally,” Frausto said. “It is also to ensure the training of service members can continue without harming the resources on base.”
The program works to maintain the protected species on the base such as the desert tortoise and migratory birds from poachers and collectors. One of the laws enforced by CLEO is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, protecting all birds except the House Sparrow, Rock Dove and starlings. They also enforce laws that protect the base’s more than 2,000 recorded archaeological sites.
“CLEO is a program funded by the Marine Corps with collaboration through the FWS,” said Brian Henen, ecologist, NREA. “The natural resources laws enforced by the program include the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
These laws serve to protect the various threatened species that migrate through the base. The desert tortoise is one of these species that is exclusive to the Mojave and Sonoran deserts of southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.
According to Henen, the cultural laws included a few other mandates such as the Native American Grave and Repatriation Act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. These mandates protect human remains, burial sites, cultural sites, rock art and tools which may be left behind by Native American cultures that migrated through the area seasonally for 10,000 years. The more prominent tribes included the Serrano, Cahuilla, Mojave and Chemehuevi.
Coordinating alongside other outside agencies, CLEO works to ensure training aboard the base can continue without a detrimental effect to the environment or the various cultural resources aboard the Combat Center.
“CLEO oversees the protection of the natural resources on base and working with other agencies to do the same thing such as National Park Services and Bureau of Land Management,” Frausto said. “Our ultimate goal is to maintain those resources not only now but for future generations to come.”