Op-ed – Operation Conservation: The Military’s fight to protect nature

It’s easy to think of tanks and trenches when a military installation comes to mind. And it’s true, much of our nation’s bases are home to tanks as well as everything else that goes boom. While such imagery showcases the constant turning of ground, the clearing of vegetation, and the soiling of water, military installations have for a while acted as conservations and assisted in the preservation of natural environment and protection of endangered species.

 

The Department of Defense’s consideration for conservation is more than just an understanding of liability. In fact, the DOD initiated the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) program to enter into legal agreements with independent conservation groups such as the Trust for Public Land to limit and prevent the encroachment of development into surrounding areas. The Congress enacted initiative has thus benefited both military and conservation groups in many ways.

New York Army Guard engineers clear streams to prep for hurricane

Protects The Land, Protects The Mission

Now, as one that has traveled to arty bases stretched across the nation, I can tell you there’s no shortage of land separating training areas and civilians. The excess undeveloped land in most cases goes uninhabited during tactical exercises and acts as a buffer for noise to limit interference with neighboring towns.

 

Though this seems more like a nuisance negotiation rather than conservation, the untouched rolling landscape protects the integrity of the natural environment which in turn protects the integrity of the mission. The buffer also ensures that there is no light interference from neighboring houses and businesses and interaction from the “outside” world is either absent or at a minimum.

 

Protects All Life

Go far enough onto any base and you’ll find yourself staring at free roaming wildlife. I personally had the pleasure performing a night land navigation exercise with a group of peers and being stalked by a mountain lion. From buffalo and mountain lions of Pendleton to the extremely scarce desert tortoise of 29 Palms, many bases act as sanctuaries for endangered species and protective measures are put in place and enforced by federal conservation groups and military personnel.

 

With protected wildlife roaming on military installations there’s also less possibility of habitat encroachment or destruction from housing and development, which as a result prevents these species from entering nearby local neighborhoods and causing a nuisance or being hunted and trapped by hunters.

Soldiers from Task Force Alpha, California Army National Guard, conduct a morning brief Aug. 9 at Eel River Conservation Camp in Redway, California, prior to moving up the Humboldt mountains for mop up missions during the Humboldt Lightning Fire. (U.S. Army National Guard photo/Staff Sgt. Eddie Siguenza)

Soldiers from Task Force Alpha, California Army National Guard, conduct a morning brief Aug. 9 at Eel River Conservation Camp in Redway, California, prior to moving up the Humboldt mountains for mop up missions during the Humboldt Lightning Fire. (U.S. Army National Guard photo/Staff Sgt. Eddie Siguenza)

Protects Farms And Ranches

One can argue that wide open ranchland or farmland was once abundant and limitless in the U.S.  As urban sprawl began to claim more land, the state of the farm became endangered and soon we as a nation grew concerned on the future of an old American practice. These agreements with the DoD also stretches across platforms to include working lands such as farms, ranches, forests, and use for recreational activities.

 

Local landowners who share their fields with military installations protect the livelihood of their land for many years.  Most recently in 2013, a joint collaboration between the DoD and the Department of Agriculture and Interior formed the Sentinel Landscape Partnership, a partnership with federal, local, and private landowners to strengthen the sustainability and economies of farms and other working lands surrounding bases.  This new initiative is designed specifically to preserve, enhance, and protect the natural rural landscape by reducing, preventing, and eliminating restrictions that inhibit military training.

 

The stride of the REPI has been going strong for over ten years benefiting military training missions and environmental conservation.  For more information, please refer to www.repi.mil.

 

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