Conserving Biodiversity on Military Lands: A Guide for Natural Resource Managers 3rd Edition

Balancing Biodiversity Conservation with Multiple Uses


Today’s management of military lands is increasingly sophisticated and is the product of a range of influences both direct and indirect. This chapter focuses on incorporating biodiversity management into military land use. But first, a basic understanding of how military land uses developed over the years—by understanding the legal and sociological origins of today’s military land uses—commanders and land managers should be able to successfully incorporate biodiversity management into the installation multiple-use mix.

Training has always been the primary use of military lands. However, since their establishment, military reservations have served additional purposes in response to national priorities, mission needs, public pressure, and advances in land management practices. Military installations—including training and testing lands, ammunition manufacture and storage plants, and depots and terminals—have incorporated forestry, agriculture outleasing, and hunting and fishing land uses into daily operations because they provide a variety of benefits. Military lands are also managed for natural resources, threatened and endangered species, cultural resources, and a range of environmental compliance related issues.

Box 11.1: What is multiple use?

The Department of Defense (DoD) defines multiple use as “[T]he integrated, coordinated, and compatible use of natural resources so as to achieve a sustainable yield of a mix of desired goods, services, and direct and indirect benefits while protecting the primary purpose of supporting and enhancing the military mission and observing stewardship responsibilities.”

Forest operations and agriculture outleasing

Forestry was one of the first non-military training land uses to be incorporated and was part of an expanded military use. World War I demonstrated the military’s need for wood products and in 1918 the military established its first forestry program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, for the purpose of producing timber.

In the first half of the twentieth century, military reservations were not particularly extensive, but erosion and wildfires were ongoing problems. Woodlots and forested areas had to be managed due to the buildup of fuels, and Forest Service advisors, following their mandate of water supply protection and continuous timber production, recommended wildfire and erosion control measures through active forest management programs that included timber production.

In the 1940s there were about 3 million acres (excluding Alaska) under military control, but by the 1960s the figure had increased to nearly 30 million acres. This large land area required the knowledge and experience of professional land managers, foresters, and agronomists. Subsequent installation land management under these professionals progressed beyond land stabilization and wildfire management, to non-military uses including timber production and agriculture outleasing for crops and grazing. These added land uses not only helped to maintain military lands in good condition and suitable for training, but also saved military labor costs and provided financial support for the forestry and agriculture outleasing programs. In many cases, lands acquired by the military were often in poor condition and unsuitable for training. Many were former farm lands or otherwise devoid of forest or native vegetation, and it was critical that these lands be revegetated. Under the direction of the Forest Service, many of these lands were converted to forest, which was then managed for timber production.

In 1956 Congress provided authority for the military departments to retain the receipts from the sale of forest products, and this led to a significant increase in timber production by the military—between 1956 and 1963, gross income from military forest lands increased from $10.5 million to $26.7 million. Today, surplus funds (after installation forestry program expenses and state entitlements61 are paid) are deposited into the DoD Forestry Reserve Account. The DoD retains a minimum balance in this account to fund emergency forestry program contingencies that may arise. But the DoD annually returns some of the excess funds in the account to the individual services for forestry enhancement programs, or in some cases, for general natural resources projects. (LRMP 2005, Part 3-24).

61 10 USC 2665 grants a 40 percent entitlement of annual net forestry sale proceeds to the installation host state or states. The states distribute the funds to the appropriate host counties to be used to build, maintain, and fund roads and schools.

Box 11.2: Multiple use as a national policy

Demand for wood products for the post-World War II housing boom coincided and competed with an increased demand for recreation and wilderness and a concern for environmental values. These changes in public attitudes and the need to balance competing demands led to the concept of multiple-use which was declared national policy in two Congressional acts—the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960, which applied to the Forest Service, and the Classification and Multiple Use Act of 1964, which applied to the Bureau of Land Management.

The World War II period also saw the introduction of outleasing of military lands for agriculture. For a fee, farmers could apply to lease military lands around airfields, ammunition storage areas, and other grasslands or arable land where grazing or crop production would not interfere with military activities. At first, income from outleases was deposited into the U.S. Treasury and it was not until later that outleasing became the Reimbursable Agriculture and Grazing Program, allowing the military services to retain agricultural receipts and use them to fund natural resources projects at their individual installations.

The establishment of the reimbursable program had the effect of increasing incentives to offer land for lease and outleasing was promoted by the military as an inexpensive land management option. The lessees often provided in-kind services on leased lands, often in lieu of cash rent, such as mowing, weed and brush control, fence construction and repair, drainage maintenance, fire lane construction, and rodent control. Agriculture and grazing operations on the leased lands were also important for fire control because the underbrush and grasses that could fuel fires were reduced.

62 Engle Act. 10 USC 2671 et seq. (1958).

Hunting, fishing and recreational uses

The restoration of military lands and conversion to forest brought an increase in wildlife populations, and so hunting was introduced on some installations to assist in controlling populations of deer and other game species. Consistent hunting policies did not exist for military installations until the passage of the Engle Act62 in 1958. The act tried to resolve basic conflicts between the military and civilian conservation agencies by requiring that all hunting, fishing, and trapping on military installations be conducted in accordance with state and federal laws, and under the appropriate state licenses.

On most installations, commanders restricted hunting privileges to the military and their dependents until passage of the Sikes Act of 1960, which authorized public recreational access and the collection of fees by installations for that privilege. This led to the widespread opening of military areas to public recreation. Although outdoor recreation included camping, picnicking, boating, swimming, and a host of other outdoor activities, hunting and fishing were in greatest demand by the public at that time. Fees collected for hunting and fishing activities are used to cover administrative expenses and support conservation initiatives. Unlike forestry and agricultural lease fees, hunting and fishing fees must only be used for funding activities on the installation from which they were collected.

Managing for biodiversity—as an added multiple use

By the early 1990s, military training and testing lands were being used not only for direct mission support but, when appropriate, were also supporting forestry (primarily timber production), agriculture and grazing on outleased lands, and recreational hunting and fishing. These three land use programs continue to provide a range of benefits to the military, and are usually economically self-financing and in some cases, are significantly profitable. Funds raised by these programs have benefited natural resources management on installations throughout the nation and have significantly benefited the quality of military training lands by supplementing the limited funding designated for natural resources management.

Military training and testing activities have intensified considerably due to the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) of 1988, and subsequent BRAC actions, which have resulted in the closure and realignment of military bases throughout the country. Remaining installations now accommodate more troops, many rotations, and a diversity of training activities, and are under continual pressure to sustain their ranges and maintain military readiness while remaining stewards of the land. They achieve this by following a comprehensive and integrated ecosystem management approach, implemented through the Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan (INRMP) process, and which aims to balance an installation’s various activities and land uses with its military mission requirements.63

Conserving and improving native biodiversity is the first principle of DoD’s ecosystem management approach (DODI 1996). Just as military lands are managed for use as training lands, and for forestry, agricultural outleasing, hunting and fishing, and recreation, so too they can be managed for biodiversity. When regarded as a management initiative, biodiversity can readily be incorporated into all facets of land management through the installation’s INRMP. Goals and objectives for biodiversity management should be identified in the INRMP, and then integrated with the installation’s training requirements, and with other natural and cultural resources management goals and objectives. Its explicit inclusion within the INRMP means that actions that benefit biodiversity, as well as actions that may negatively impact biodiversity, will be clearly identified and monitored through the INRMP review and update process.

63 See Chapter 5 for a discussion of the INRMP process.


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