Last week, the Obama Administration announced a new federal, local, and private sector collaboration that will preserve agricultural lands and restore and protect wildlife habitat, all while helping to sustain military readiness.
Known as the “Sentinel Landscapes” partnership, the effort is kicking off with a pilot at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, an important training facility for our troops in the South Puget Sound region of Washington State, and home to some of the last remaining native prairie habitat for wildlife in the state.
This unique convergence of landscapes comes with unique challenges. Namely, as development comes closer and closer to the base, at-risk species in the area take refuge in the only land that can’t be developed, the military base itself. The presence of these species can then bring restrictions to the base’s ability to engage in certain training activities.
In a unique collaboration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Interior, and the Department of Defense will work together and with private landowners and state and local partners, including the non-profit Center for Natural Lands Management, to preserve and restore habitat around the base to ensure at-risk species can survive, while also improving military readiness by ensuring training activities can proceed unimpeded.
The three federal departments, as well as private organizations, will invest more than $12 million to restore and protect over 2,600 acres of important habitat on private and public lands around the base – allowing military training activities to move forward with more flexibility. The partnership will particularly help protect agricultural lands, preserving traditional farms and ranches, and supporting local rural economies at the same time.
Meanwhile, Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will give credit to farmers and ranchers who voluntarily implement conservation practices in the pilot landscape, providing them with regulatory certainty that they will not need to take additional actions to comply with the Endangered Species Act.
The new Sentinel Landscapes initiative grew out of the White House Rural Council, chaired by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and including Defense Secretary Hagel and Interior Secretary Jewell, and also supports the goals of the American’s Great Outdoors Initiative.
The pilot project in Washington State is just the start. As Sentinel Landscapes demonstrates, by working within and outside the federal government we can overcome challenges and build on opportunities facing rural American today.
Doug McKalip is the Senior Policy Advisor for the White House Domestic Policy Council. Jay Jensen is the Associate Director for Land & Water Ecosystems for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.