Expanded Opportunities for Natural Resources Encroachment Mitigation under the Sikes Act
Unlike development, natural resources pose a number of dynamic issues for installations to address. Threatened, endangered, and at-risk species move without regard for property, county, or installation fenceline boundaries. Furthermore, the habitat that supports such species is not all alike. Quality of habitat can differ dramatically between parcels of land, and based on considerations like size and isolation, the capability of a specific parcel of land to support listed or at-risk species changes. Therefore, an installation’s strategy for mitigating natural resources-related encroachment should be designed differently from, but aligned with, the strategy for mitigating encroachment from incompatible development.
REPI buffer partnerships operate under the authority of 10 U.S. Code § 2684a, which allows DoD to enter into cost-sharing partnerships to protect and manage land that buffers installations from encroachment and is ecologically connected to installations through conservation easement acquisition. These partnerships are also able to take advantage of DoD’s authority under the Sikes Act (16 U.S. Code § 670c-1) to fund off-installation natural resources management and restoration on lands that DoD does not hold an interest in, where doing so provides a benefit to the military. In 2014, the National Defense Authorization Act expanded the Sikes Act authority to allow DoD to also fund “management endowments” for these natural resources stewardship actions occurring off-installation.
This authorization adds flexibility to REPI buffer partnerships, because it allows DoD to fund natural resources “management endowments” where management alone benefits the military, without the additional investment in acquisition. In a natural resource management context, funding “management endowments” is important because it allows DoD to make an investment in resource management that needs to occur on a regular basis in order for installations to receive the benefits of these actions. With this widening of scope, military installations and partners gained another tool to smartly address encroachment stemming from the loss of critical habitat for threatened, endangered, and at-risk species that can lead to restrictions on testing, training, and operational capabilities.
The model that the 2684a authority established gave installations, communities, and their partners a pathway to prevent and mitigate obvious sources of encroachment, like the development of residential neighborhoods, tall structures, or similar infrastructure. In all of these projects, there is a very clear connection between the geographic location of the military installation and the proposed development or action. However, the encroachment concerns that arise from incompatible development – most often noise, dust, safety, and frequency spectrum impingement – are often separate from how the presence of threatened, endangered, and at-risk species create encroachment concerns.
Under the expanded Sikes Act authority, installations can now take advantage of the opportunity to address natural resources concerns in the manner that makes the most sense: with flexibility. Funds from the REPI Program can be used to maintain or improve natural resources located outside of installation fencelines, even if the property is not part of a REPI buffer partnership.
For more information about submitting a REPI project under the Sikes Act authority, please contact the REPI Program office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Draft DoD Gopher Tortoise Conservation and Crediting Strategy Proposes New Model for At-Risk Species Management
Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a species may warrant protection through listing if it is endangered or threatened throughout all or a significant portion of its range. For military installations that host such species on their ranges, listing under the ESA can result in restrictions to vital testing, training, and operational activities and costly workarounds. As DoD lands host over 400 threatened and endangered species, and over 550 at-risk species, the listing of a species under the ESA is no small consideration to the military and its ability to provide realistic testing and training. Because of this concern, DoD is currently developing a pilot project that incentivizes conservation measures that can later be used to offset military test, training and operational activities. Once finalized, the Strategy will provide a framework that can be adopted to proactively address
other at-risk species around the United States whose listing would impact mission flexibility.
The gopher tortoise, pictured at the top of this article, is a long-lived, native burrowing species of the open, fire-maintained longleaf pine ecosystem in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. It is called a “keystone species” because many other wildlife species benefit from its presence and abundance. More than 300 other species have been known to use gopher tortoise burrows, including ESA-listed species such as eastern indigo snakes and many at-risk species such as the gopher frog and Florida pine snake. While the gopher tortoise has been listed under the ESA as a threatened species in its western range, it is still a candidate species in its eastern range of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and parts of Alabama. If the eastern population is listed as threatened or endangered, restrictions on military testing, training and operations may
become necessary at some installations and ranges.
In recognition of this concern, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DoD, and the states of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina have developed the DoD Gopher Tortoise Conservation and Crediting Strategy. The Strategy, open for public comment in the Federal Register until 9 June 2016, proposes a framework for incentivizing proactive conservation that will earn military installations “credits” that can be used to offset test, training, and operational activities if the gopher tortoise is listed under the ESA in the future. This strategy builds off of the 2013 Range-Wide Conservation Strategy and 2008 Candidate Conservation Agreement.
What the gopher tortoise strategy proposes to do is provide a framework for coordinating and directing the conservation and management actions of partners in areas where the gopher tortoise has yet to be listed, and where twenty-two Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and National Guard installations are located. The strategy’s framework calls for coordinated efforts to preserve the best tracts of habitat and manage them accordingly, which calls for prescribed fire, hardwood and shrub encroachment mitigation, and similar activities. If this can be achieved in an effective manner, it is possible that gopher tortoise populations can recover to a point where listing under the ESA is unnecessary and military installations within the region can test, train, and operate at current levels of flexibility. However, if conservation efforts are not adequate and the eastern population is
listed under the ESA, the proactive conservation efforts made by DoD will create quantifiable credits that can be used to counter additional restrictions on mission resulting from the listing. Since the framework aims to benefit the gopher tortoise population as a whole, the overall result of the Strategy is a “win-win” for the species and national defense.
The Federal Register notice on the Draft Gopher Tortoise Strategy can be accessed here.
Natural Resources REPI Projects: MCB Camp Pendleton/MCAS Miramar, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and the Southeast Regional Army Project
How else are REPI projects addressing natural resource management and protection across the country? Here are three examples from MCB Camp Pendleton/MCAS Miramar in California, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in Washington, and the Southeast Regional Army Project in Georgia.
MCB CAMP PENDLETON/MCAS MIRAMAR: Coastal mountain habitat at MCB Camp Pendleton hosts amphibious assault training and Southern California’s last best coastal refuge for several threatened and endangered species, while MCAS Miramar is home to the Corps’ master air station on the West Coast. Sandwiched between the major metropolitan centers of Los Angeles to the north and San Diego to the south, the Marine Corp’s most important western training and operational installations are also havens to species like the Pacific pocket mouse, California least terns, Stephens’ kangaroo rat, and Least Bell’s vireos. With surrounding development continuing to isolate remaining populations of species in the Camp Pendleton and MCAS Miramar areas, REPI partnering efforts are acquiring parcels that will create a wildlife corridor and crediting system to ease restrictions on
training and operations.
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD: Due to fires routinely ignited during training exercises, Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s artillery ranges have become ideal habitat for a handful of threatened, endangered, and at-risk species in Washington State. As the installation hosts the majority of remaining prairie habitat in the South Puget Sound, loss of prairie outside the base can lead to increased restrictions on Army activities. Therefore, REPI funds are being leveraged with the resources of eighteen partners to protect, restore, and manage prairie habitat around JBLM, which was designated as the pilot Sentinel Landscape in 2013. The installation is currently working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service towards a credit and species recovery program that would grant additional training flexibility and consideration for investments JBLM makes to protect and manage habitat. This is
especially important due to the recent listing under the Endangered Species Act of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, streaked horned lark, and Mazama pocket gopher.
SOUTHEAST REGIONAL ARMY PROJECT: In an innovative application of the REPI Program's buffer partnership authority and expanded authority under the Sikes Act, the Army partnered with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), U.S. Forest Service, and a private foundation to protect one of the most important tracts of high-quality habitat for the gopher tortoise. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Army and USFWS signed in 2015 allows for collaboration on projects of mutual benefit, with the goal of protecting Army mission flexibility while conserving habitats in ecologically related areas outside, and even removed from, the vicinity of installations. Now, the first project under the MOU is using a regional ecosystem approach to protect a tract of land considered critical for the gopher tortoise as it may prevent the species’
listing under the Endangered Species Act. The listing of the gopher tortoise could have significant implications for the missions of Forts Benning, Gordon, Rucker, and Stewart; however, by conserving this specific tract of land, the partners will advance their mutual goals. In addition to protecting Georgia's third largest population of gopher tortoises, partners will protect habitat for two federally threatened and candidate species and five additional species currently being petitioned for federal listing. Through this single action, the Army is making an investment in the future of mission flexibility for several Southeastern installations.
For more information about any of these projects, please visit the REPI website.