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Sentinel Landscapes: Win-Win-Win for Military Readiness, Conservation, and Agriculture

Military installations across the country support weapons testing and troop training that help keep America safe.  Yet the capacity of military bases to provide these critical defense capabilities also depends on compatible uses of the private and other government lands that surround installations and ranges.  Working agricultural lands are often more compatible neighbors to noisy or otherwise disruptive military activities than dense housing and development.  Those same areas that can buffer military bases also provide food and forest products as well as wildlife habitat and clean water, all of which are also important to our national security.

Today, we are happy to recognize our second round of “Sentinel Landscape” partnerships being designated in Arizona, Maryland, and Delaware—Fort Huachuca and Naval Air Station Patuxent River.  Implemented jointly by the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Department of the Interior (DOI), these partnerships support efforts to maintain working agricultural lands, build strong local economies, protect at-risk wildlife and water supplies, and ensure the readiness of our military.  Between federal, state, private, and non-profit local commitments, partners have committed over $25 million to these landscapes from 2014 through 2017.

Around Arizona’s Fort Huachuca, DoD, the U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working with the state government and the Arizona Land and Water Trust to reduce unsustainable subdivision and development near the Fort’s training areas and airspace.  This partnership will help to keep 5,000 acres of ranchland in production, restore grasslands and wetlands, and implement the State of Arizona’s Forest Action Plan.  All of these actions support Fort Huachuca’s mission as the leading training area for unmanned aircraft system training in the Western United States.  Work in this Sentinel Landscape will be especially important in protecting local groundwater supplies and maintaining rare stream and wetland habitat.

The new Sentinel Landscape in Maryland and Delaware is centered on the Navy’s Patuxent River-Atlantic Test Ranges, known as ‘Pax River.’  DoD and other agencies have already protected nearly 3,000 acres of surrounding fields, farm, and forests to buffer aircraft flight zones.  Future actions will help benefit wildlife and water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, including work along the Nanticoke River corridor.  Pax River is the Navy’s premier aircraft research, development, and testing area.  Lands and waters within the Sentinel Landscape boundary support prime fishing and other recreation for local residents and help sustain populations of more than 260 rare plant and animal species.  

The Administration launched the pilot Sentinel Landscape partnership in 2013 at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington State’s Puget Sound region.  Since then, Federal agencies have been working with state and local government and private landowners to preserve and restore habitat around the joint Army-Air Force base to protect at-risk wildlife and ensure that military training can proceed unimpeded.  The joint base supports 43,000 soldiers and airmen for maneuver training and land-warrior system testing, and encompasses more than 90 percent of remaining prairie grasslands in the region.  The partnership is currently pursuing a 745 acre prairie acquisition project with funds from DoD, Washington State, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, moving them closer to the goal of conserving an additional 5,600 acres by 2020.  USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is also pursuing additional working lands easements, and local partners are making progress with stewardship demonstration projects and the reintroduction of federally-protected native species such as the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly.

The Administration is proud of these partnerships that bring together so many partners around a shared opportunity that benefits the Nation’s defense, natural resources and food production. 

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Jay Jensen is Associate Director for Land and Water Ecosystems at the White House Council on Environmental Quality