The sites where the US produced and tested some of the deadliest weapons known to mankind are now peaceful havens for wildlife.
They now protect black bear and black-footed ferrets, coral reefs and steppes, rare birds and endangered salmon.
An astonishing number of animals and habitats have flourished on six obsolete weapon complexes – mainly for nuclear weapons or chemical weapons – because the sites have banned the public and other intrusions for decades, the Associated Press reported.
The government converted the sites into shelters under the direction of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Amchitka Island, part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, was the scene of three US nuclear tests in the 1960s and early 1970s. In the caverns blown up by the detonations, an unknown volume of radioactive material was left behind. Part of the island, which is closed to the public, has been designated a wilderness area.
The Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge at Indiana used to be known as the Jefferson Proving Ground. The army had fired more than 24 million artillery shells there for over half a century. The shooting range remained dotted with an estimated 154,000 pounds of depleted uranium fragment fragments. The shelter was designated by a bird conservation coalition as a major bird sanctuary worldwide, with part of the site being open to the public.
Nine reactors produced plutonium for US nuclear weapons at the site, which has since become known as the Hanford Reach National Monument in Washington state. Amid the urgency of World War II and the Cold War, Hanford left large amounts of contaminated soil and water. The bushy meadows and habitat of the Columbia River have promoted mink and otter, endangered salmon and many other species.
Johnston Island, part of the Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Central Pacific, was a launch pad for nuclear tests in the US in the 1960s. In 1962 failed two launches and scattered radioactive debris on the 1 square mile island. Since then, the refuge has been home to numerous seals and corals.
The US Department of Energy produced plutonium detonators for nuclear warheads at the site later known as Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, northwest of Denver. There was a long history of leaks, fires and environmental violations. Hundreds of species live in its rare tallgrass prairie, including an endangered jumping mouse.
The National Wildlife Refuge of Rocky Mountain Arsenal in the northeastern suburbs of Denver was a place where the army made chemical weapons and manufactured pesticides from private companies. Bald eagles nested on the site, and wildlife officials reintroduced bison and endangered ferrets.
The military shut down the sites to protect people from their hazardous work and to protect the environment, said Professor David Havlick at Colorado Springs University in Colorado Springs, which has been involved in conversions from military to wildlife ,
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Many of the conversions occurred after the First and Second World War. It is a cost effective way to expand the national refugee system, especially in urban areas with limited space, said Mark Madison, historian of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
When the Cold War thawed in the 1980s, more surplus military land was provided for shelters. Some were among the most polluted sites in the country, but had areas of hard-to-find habitat.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.