The Newport Chemical Depot (NECD) is located in west-central Indiana in Vermillion County near the Wabash River, approximately 70 miles west of Indianapolis. Owned by the U. S. Army and operated by the Mason & Hanger Corporation, NECD has become well-known in the Midwest over the past several years as the site where approximately 1200 tons of the deadly VX nerve agent will be chemically neutralized and then shipped for disposal. However, as with many other Department of Defense lands throughout the U. S., the Newport Chemical Depot maintains significant habitat for many threatened and declining bird species.
Totaling over 7000 acres in size and situated at the convergence of the Eastern Tallgrass Prairie and Central Hardwoods Bird Conservation Regions (BCR), NECD consequently supports a large and diverse complex of habitat types. The property contains wetlands, forest, restored prairie, and agricultural grasslands, and such variety has resulted in diverse and abundant bird communities on-site. Additionally, given the area?s security concerns, 70 percent of NECD is fenced and regularly patrolled, thereby providing the resident and migratory avifauna relatively large habitat patches with little human disturbance.
The Newport Chemical Depot, whose habitat consists of a mosaic of sizeable forest, grassland, and wetland areas, supports a unique avian species richness and diversity when compared to the surrounding environs of rural west-central Indiana. Several bird studies and monitoring projects have been conducted on the property in the past, including a seasonal MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship Program) station, which have documented an impressive array of conservation-priority species utilizing the area. In all, a noteworthy 14 species listed on the state?s endangered/special concern registry and at least 7 WatchList species have been recorded at Newport since 1993.
Given the fact that both upland and riparian forest constitutes a large percentage of the overall habitat at Newport, several species of declining woodland birds can be found at this IBA. Breeding WatchList species found within these local biomes include Wood Thrush and Kentucky Warbler. Additionally several small woodlots and forest edges can be found on the property, and these ecotones create important nesting and migratory stopover habitat for American Woodcock and Red-headed Woodpeckers, which are also included on Audubon?s conservation WatchList.
Also, the grasslands at the Newport Chemical Depot, which include both agricultural fields and a growing percentage of restored native prairie, encompass over 10 percent of this IBA?s habitat and consequently support a diverse community of obligate grassland species. WatchList birds that can be found nesting on-site include Dickcissel and Henslow?s Sparrow, the latter of which is considered a global conservation priority. Additionally, species listed on the IDNR registry as endangered or that of special concern have be found in this habitat, including Upland Sandpiper, Sedge Wren, and Western Meadowlark. Small herbaceous wetlands that support breeding Virginia Rails, both state-endangered species, can be found within the grasslands, too.
In its 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) proposal, the Department of Defense recommended to decommission the Newport Chemical Depot. There was no additional chemical demilitarization workload slated to go to Newport Chemical Depot, and the projected date for completion of existing projects, such as the neutralization of VX, is 2007. Consequently, the NECD facility will be closed within the coming years, and the future of the property, as well as the stewardship and protection of its natural resources, remains in question.
Following the eventual closure of the military installation, continued management and deed restrictions will be necessary to ensure future protection of the bird communities and other ecological components of this Important Bird Area. Subdividing the Newport property and allowing for its sale to private developmental firms or increasing the amount of land leased for agricultural purposes would precipitously increase the amount of habitat fragmentation while simultaneously decreasing the overall habitat availability in the area. WatchList species which are susceptible to area sensitivity and/or the compulsory increase of nest depredation associated with habitat fragmentation would likely be lost from NECD. Additionally, restoration, monitoring, access control, and deed restrictions might be required for former waste management areas at NECD to prevent health and safety risks and significant long-term impacts to the watershed and surrounding environs.