Federal Agencies Pool Money To Preserve Buffer Around Military Base

By Tom Banse

Urban development around military bases in the Northwest and across the nation is creating a headache for the U.S. Defense Department. So on Wednesday, several federal agencies announced they will pool money to preserve buffer lands, starting with Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma.

4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team trains at JBLM. By Spc. Reese Von Rogatsz/US Army, 2012Federal and state money will be used to buy conservation easements or buy property outright to prevent development on more than 26-hundred acres of farmland and prairie. The land is in Thurston County, Washington near Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense John Conger says preserving habitat off-base reduces pressure to restrict military training exercises on-base.

John Conger: "It's an increasingly thorny problem as development comes closer and closer to bases that were once remote and endangered species take refuge on the only lands that can't be developed - the military installation itself."

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says if this cooperative template works out at Lewis-McChord, it could later be expanded to other base environments -- in eastern Washington and California, for example.

Photo: 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team trains at JBLM. By Spc. Reese Von Rogatsz/US Army, 2012

The $12.6 million budget for the first so-called "Sentinel Landscapes" partnership comes from the Defense Department, USDA, U.S. Department of the Interior, several state agencies, Thurston County and the non-profit Center for Natural Lands Management. 

The non-profit group's program manager Hannah Anderson says previous federal grants for South Puget Sound prairie conservation got the ball rolling a while ago. "The Sentinel Landscapes designation is really built on the shoulders of years and years of cooperation by multiple partners," Anderson said. She said conservation easements will be acquired from "willing sellers," many of which have already been identified.

Center for Natural Lands Management: http://www.southsoundprairies.org/

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