Compatible land use partnerships.
There was a time when many military installations were considered remote. They had few neighbors, generated few complaints, experienced few environmental restrictions, and conducted their business relatively unimpeded. However, that era is clearly over. As a result, the Army is redefining its relationship with its neighbors, wildlife included.
Installations that often were strategically placed in relatively unpopulated areas now support communities that have developed because of the installations. The environmental awakening of 1960s and 1970s brought about an age of new legislation and requirements. The Army manages more than 15 million acres (6 million hectares) that are home to more than 175 threatened or endangered plant and animal species and many more at-risk species. Simultaneously, technologies employed by the armed forces allow soldiers to engage the enemy over ever increasing distances. Skills required for war must be taught and practiced in order to be used in battle. These seemingly competing demands on the land base are increasingly stressing Army training.
Numerous installations across the country are experiencing training restrictions due to development, incompatible land uses around their borders, and the presence of threatened or endangered species. Collectively, incompatible land uses or restrictions that affect military training are referred to as encroachment.
Over the past 15 years, the Army has fine tuned methods of securing compatible land uses in the vicinity of Army installations to protect the Army training mission, the natural resources that sustain it, and the quality of life of the local community. The most recent initiative is the Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) program, which was established to resolve installation encroachment issues. This program began when Fort Bragg received a biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that planned training activities would likely jeopardize the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis), or RCW. The resulting training restrictions essentially shut down several training areas on Fort Bragg. The heart of the problem was a lack of land available for habitat management. Located in the North Carolina Sandhills, Fort Bragg could not be responsible for recovering the entire Sandhills population of the RCW while conducting its military readiness mission. In order to be able to train soldiers, the Army needed to increase the habitat available to the RCW, both on and off the installation.
Fort Bragg looked outside its fences to deal with its conservation challenges. In doing so, it entered into a community of diverse stakeholders. In the beginning, some of the working relationships were polarized, but over time these diverse groups managed to develop a strategy: the Army would work with its partners to conserve and restore habitat on lands near Fort Bragg by purchasing interests in land from willing sellers. The Army would contribute funds to its partners, who in turn would work to enroll private landowners in the program. This effort, called the Fort Bragg Private Lands Initiative, led to an increase in land available for RCW management.
Over the past 15 years, the Fort Bragg Private Lands Initiative has seen a significant increase in woodpecker breeding pairs, including birds on Fort Bragg. Through years of observation, research, and land management, military training and RCW conservation have become compatible on Fort Bragg and other military installations.
In 2003, citing the Fort Bragg initiative as a model, Congress expanded the authority of the armed services to enter into cooperative agreements for conservation and encroachment purposes. This was a milestone in the transition from the Private Lands Initiative at Fort Bragg to the nation wide ACUB program. To date, 14 Army installations have joined the ACUB program and six more are in the developmental stage. The program has helped to protect approximately 45,000 acres (18,210 ha) of wildlife habitat outside of military installations. Nearly $20 million in Department of Defense funds leveraged partner contributions estimated at $91 million.
The RCW will turn out to be a major beneficiary. Five Army installations (Camp Blanding, Florida; Camp Shelby, Mississippi; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Benning, Georgia; and Fort Stewart, Georgia) are protecting woodpecker habitat around the bases through this program. Fort Bragg has already achieved its recovery objective within its boundaries, and it continues to work with partners and willing neighbors to expand habitat beyond the fence-line.
By working with their neighbors, defense installations are becoming more active members of their surrounding communities. Camp Blanding's ACUB happens to be a small part of the much larger Florida Forever program administered by the state. Florida Forever is a statewide land acquisition effort that protects vital ecosystem functions and services.
In the state of Washington, Fort Lewis's developing ACUB is a partnership among The Nature Conservancy, the state, and the installation. The program in this case intends to protect habitat for four candidate species so that they will not need to be listed. These species occupy a prairie ecosystem and include the mardon skipper and Taylor's checkerspot butterflies, the streaked horned lark, and the Mazama pocket gopher.
Such stories are multiplying around Army bases across the nation. Through the ACUB program, installations are working to preserve their mission, the natural resources on and off the installation, and the quality of life in surrounding communities. In so doing, the Army is sustaining the environment for a secure future.
John Housein is a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Army Environmental Center.