Department of Defense (DoD) lands cover more than 25 million acres spanning a vast array of natural habitats, from Southwestern deserts and Hawaiian rainforest to high peaks in the Rockies and coastal marshes along the Gulf Coast. These ecologically diverse lands harbor an extraordinary array of plant and animal species, including nearly 490 federally listed endangered species and 550 at-risk species. This rich ecological fabric serves as an essential backdrop for high-quality and realistic military training and testing. Because of this, conserving biodiversity on DoD installations is key to maintaining readiness and meeting the military mission. Biodiversity is a concept that, at its heart, can be understood as the variety of life on Earth. Although many people associate the term with the array of different species found in each place—or even just those that are threatened or endangered—the concept of biodiversity also includes the variety of ecosystems that occur across the landscape as well as the variation in genetic material found within species. Indeed, it is this breadth and inclusiveness—from genes to species to ecosystems, and from terrestrial and freshwater to marine systems—that makes biodiversity conservation so central to the work of DoD natural resource managers.
DoD has a long and successful history of managing natural resources on its lands to support military mission requirements and meet legal obligations. Natural resource management on DoD lands has evolved considerably over time, however, and since the early 1990s biodiversity conservation has been an overarching framework for DoD natural resource managers. This guide draws on that rich legacy of work and builds on two previous editions of Conserving Biodiversity on Military Lands (Leslie et al. 1996, Benton et al. 2008). Since the last edition of the guide, there have been numerous advances in techniques for understanding biodiversity—and the services it provides—as well as continuing progress in conservation strategies and planning approaches. There also have been new and emerging threats to species and ecosystems on military lands, including the spread of new wildlife diseases like white nose syndrome in bats. Of perhaps greatest concern is the increasingly evident and growing risks that a rapidly changing climate poses to DoD installations and their species, ecosystems, facilities, and other assets.
By providing a realistic backdrop for training and testing, healthy and well-managed natural ecosystems play an essential role in maintaining the readiness of military troops. Conversely, overuse and poor management can result in degraded ecosystems and declining species, which in turn can result in physical constraints as well as regulatory restrictions on the use of training and testing facilities. For this reason, the Sikes Act requires the development and implementation of Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans (INRMPs) for all U.S. installations with significant natural assets. By outlining the specific natural resource management goals for an installation, and charting a path for achieving those goals, INRMPs serve as the foundational documents for balancing trade-offs and ensuring the sustainability and resilience of the installation’s ecological resources and support for the military mission.
This chapter introduces basic concepts regarding biodiversity and offers an overview of the condition and distribution of biodiversity across the United States, with a particular emphasis on military lands. The chapter also describes the evolution of DoD natural resource management over the years, including how installation managers have developed approaches for supporting the military mission while sustaining biodiversity.