Anne Desmarais, Assistant Director
As the third largest federal land management agency, the Department of Defense (DoD) is an important partner in conservation. DoD owns and manages 25 M acres of land, air and water resources across the nation that are home to more than 400 federally protected plants and animals.
The Sentinel Landscapes partnership is one of three landscape-scale initiatives of DoD’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program. These initiatives reflect a watershed change in how DOD is working with other partners to promote cross-boundary solutions and land use plans that link military training needs, conservation, and community interests.
Multi-Agency By Design
The Sentinel Landscapes partnership was established as an agency-level cooperative via MOU among DoD, USDA and DOI in 2013. A Federal Coordinating Committee (DoD, USFS, NRCS, and USFWS) oversees development and implementation of the Sentinel Landscapes. The partnership engages a wide array of federal, state and local agencies, private landowners and other organizations, with each landscape having their own particular mix of partners around the table.
Sentinel Landscapes focus on three core values: protecting working landscapes; sustaining natural resources; and maintaining military test and training missions. At the heart of all three issues is encroachment: the growing pressure on natural and military land holdings from urban development (primarily). Encroachment not only can degrade resource quality and ecosystem services, but also impact the viability of working landscapes and impede military testing and training.
Participating in a Sentinel Landscapes partnership leverages significant additional funding and benefit to military installations and their partners. It supports cost-sharing among agencies and with external partners, as well as broader stakeholder engagement with local landowners and communities around DoD lands.
From Sea to Shining Sea
Three Sentinel Landscapes were designated initially:
- Joint Base Lewis – McChord in Washington’s Puget Sound is the Army’s 3rd largest installation, home to 43K soldiers and airmen, as well as 90% of the region’s dwindling prairie habitat, and 3 listed species. The Sentinel Landscapes partnership will help to promote regional recovery of these natural resources through preservation and restoration, while ensuring the continuation of important military training, testing and operational missions.
- The Army’s Fort Huachuca, in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, provides restricted military airspace for unmanned aircraft system training in the West, as well as personnel training and electronic testing. The Sentinel Landscape partners here aim to reduce land and water development, while preserving endangered species, native grassland and ranches that provide an important land buffer for both air and land based military activities.
- Naval Air Station Patuxent River and the Atlantic Test Ranges, are the Navy’s premier aircraft research, development, test, and evaluation location. The Atlantic Test Ranges cover 2,360 square miles of restricted airspace, in the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia—a landscape of great natural diversity, rich cultural resources and recreational opportunities. Here the federal, state and conservation partners aim to conserve a wildlife corridor of at least 1,385 acres of forests, wetlands, and farmland along the Nanticoke River and the broader Chesapeake Bay. This is one of the most pristine and ecologically significant areas in the mid-Atlantic, with more than 260 rare plants and animals.
In July 2017, three additional Sentinel Landscapes were designated at Avon Park Air Force Range (FL), Camp Ripley (MN) and Eastern North Carolina. What distinguishes these landscapes is both the demonstrated success of existing partnerships, as well as the potential for coordinated management, and additional funding, to provide substantial benefit.
Photos and graphics courtesy of REPI/Sentinel Landscapes program