December 20, 2013

Landscapes as a Matter of National Security

By Bruce Beard and Stephanie Hertz, Texas A&M University

For integrated landscape management, we stress cross-sectoral collaboration and inter-ministerial coordination. But sometimes partnerships arise in unexpected places. Today’s guest post from Texas A&M University contributors describes one such recently-launched initiative that recognizes the critical role sustainable landscape management plays in national defense. This may conjure up images of conflict-prone regions, but today’s story in fact takes place on American soil, bringing together conservation, agricultural production, and homeland security.

Large rural landscapes are vital to sustaining agricultural productivity and protecting wildlife habitat. Large landscapes are also important to preparing the United State’s military for the challenges of combat; however, many training and testing areas, once remote, are now encroached upon by competing demands – such as urban sprawl, habitat fragmentation, and energy development.

A Texas A&M University System institute is playing an integral role in a new federal, local, and private collaboration dedicated to natural resource sustainability for areas surrounding military installations. The Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources is assisting the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DoI) in developing a viable framework for the nationwide Sentinel Landscapes Partnership. This partnership is a federal, state, and local initiative to encourage landowners to use their lands in ways compatible with the U.S. military mission. Through this partnership, the three federal departments and other entities will work together in priority areas near military installations, recognizing those areas as “sentinel landscapes.”

By maintaining components of landscapes such as farms, ranches, timberlands, or simply open space, landowners have for years — and without due recognition — significantly contributed to the nation’s defense. The vision for the the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership is to encourage and better engage private landowners in long-term and sustainable land management, framing a truly comprehensive and cost-effective landscape approach to protecting the military’s test and training mission.

The first pilot landscape, in the South Puget Sound region of Washington State, is home to Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM). This region has some of the state’s last remaining native prairie habitat, as well as agricultural lands. As part of this project, more than US$12.6 million will be invested to restore and protect prairie habitat on both public and private lands, creating and managing wildlife habitat to benefit plant and animal species, as well as to support agricultural production and military readiness.

On July 10, 2013, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and DoI Secretary Sally Jewell joined DoD Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense John Conger to formally announce the JBLM project and recognize its success in preserving agricultural lands, sustaining military readiness, and protecting wildlife habitat as a pioneer “Sentinel Landscape”. In their joint statements, the three Cabinet officials committed their Departments to finding other opportunities for Sentinel Landscape partnerships, where collective efforts effectively align to benefit national defense, local economies, and the conservation of natural resources. Furthering this commitment, senior officials from DoD, USDA, and DoI are working towards signing a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a Sentinel Landscapes Coordinating Committee to coordinate the delivery of Federal programs in support of the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, and to recognize and reward private landowners, whose working and natural lands also serve to protect the military mission.

Want to learn more about sustainable landscapes? Visit the Institute of Renewable Natural Resources and its Military Sustainability programs.

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