Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. Photo credit / Aaron Barna, USFWS
By Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
You may not think of it right away, but the U.S. military is an important partner in conservation. Many military bases include thousands of acres of prime habitat for wildlife, and we and other federal agencies have increasingly worked hand-in-hand with our armed services on conservation projects that ensure military readiness is maintained.
In May, for example, we honored Navy Base Coronado in California (http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=74544) for its successful management of nesting areas used by the endangered California least tern and threatened western snowy plover and for its conservation efforts on San Clemente Island to remove non-native species and help wildlife recover – all this in addition to the base’s main job of protecting our nation.
Recently, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell joined Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Defense Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Installations and Environment John Conger to announce the Sentinel Landscapes program (http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/agriculture-interior-and-defense-departments-partner-to-benefit-agricultural-lands-wildlife-habitat-and-military-readiness.cfm), an initiative designed to conserve wildlife habitat in areas around military bases.
The program is needed because many of these areas are being developed quickly, causing wildlife, including threatened and endangered species, to choose the habitat offered by military bases. This, in turn, could eventually restrict military training and testing, because of the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and other laws designed to protect wildlife.
Mazama pocket gopher. Photo credit / Kim Flotlin, USFWS
With the Sentinel Landscapes program, we hope to save this vital habitat. The Fish and Wildlife Service, the Agriculture Department’s National Resource Conservation Service, the Defense Department, conservation groups and others stakeholders will help farmers and ranchers near military installations improve their land for wildlife while continuing their way of life. For example, we will offer technical assistance to landowners on conserving and improving their land for wildlife as well as purchase voluntary long-term or permanent conservation easements to keep important habitat from being lost.
We are beginning this effort in South Puget Sound in Washington, home to Joint Base Lewis-McCord, which provides training and other operations for Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
The area contains the majority of the remaining 3 percent of the original 150,000 acres of native prairie habitat in the state and abundant wildlife including three species that have been proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act: the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, streaked horned lark and Mazama pocket gopher.
Streaked horn lark. Photo credit / David Maloney
Under this pilot effort, partners will invest $12.6 million to restore and protect more than 2,600 acres of this vital wildlife habitat while keeping farmers and ranchers on land they have worked in some cases for generations.
The Sentinel Landscapes program is a win-win-win for America. We will help maintain the traditional rural lifestyles important to the fabric of our country, conserve species that are in decline, and enable bases such as Joint Base Lewis-McCord to ensure the military readiness needed to defend our country.