Why Is the National Guard Hunting Shrimp?

What military biologists do.

The Associated Press reports that biologists with the Idaho National Guard have discovered a new species of fairy shrimp in a desert lake bed. Dana Quinney and Jay Weaver first found the forked-tailed shrimp nine years ago and will publish their findings in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Crustacean Biology. Why does the National Guard need biologists who study shrimp?

The biologists make sure that National Guard training exercises—which may include mobile howitzers, and Hellfire missiles fired from Apache helicopters—don’t cause too much damage to the environment. Three civilian biologists work full-time for the natural resources program of the Idaho National Guard; in general, they review military training plans and monitor the use of the training area (which comprises 138,000 acres). Through regular surveys, they make sure that endangered species are preserved and ecological deterioration is kept to a minimum. The fairy shrimp species Quinney and Weaver discovered could merit special consideration in the planning of future exercises.

In some cases, the biologists will be present during training exercises, but they spend most of their time on basic surveys of the ecosystem, restoration, and planning. The National Guard has natural resources programs in every state and uses the information gathered by its 51 biologists around the country to ensure compliance with environmental regulations and counter the arguments of watchdog conservation groups. Military biologists can even be called to testify in environmental lawsuits brought against the Army.

The biologists also conduct research projects. Quinney and her colleagues have applied for grants from the Department of Defense to study slickspot peppergrass and the Townsend’s ground squirrel; their research helps determine the extent to which training exercises threaten natural habitats. National Guard biologists work with specialists from outside the military and sometimes appear as co-authors on the final studies.

Quinney and Weaver didn’t discover the fairy shrimp as part of any research project. They found the new species while gathering display specimens for an annual Earth Day presentation for the soldiers.

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Explainer thanks Lt. Col. Tim Marsano and Dana Quinney of the Idaho National Guard, Eric Andersen of the Army National Guard, and reader Michael Tynan for asking the question.