Army Veteran David Sheehan distinctly remembers training on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and being stopped short by tree markings.
“We had these areas on Fort Bragg that were off-limits to training, in which certain trees were marked with white lines,” says Sheehan. “We couldn’t have any motorized vehicles within a certain distance of these areas, and basically couldn’t disturb the area at all. I knew that the trees were marked because they were habitat for an endangered bird, and I always just assumed someone at the federal level – be it Army or EPA – had marked those trees.”
“It never occurred to me that a non-profit was working with the military.”
An Unlikely Partnership
The Nature Conservancy has been partnering with the Department of Defense for more than 30 years to:
- Help the military manage natural resources;
- Ensure the long term sustainability of military testing and training bases and ranges;and
- Protect and advance the recovery of the nearly 330 endangered or threatened species found on Defense of Department lands.
But there’s another reason for the partnership, says Brigadier General, US Army (retired) Bob Barnes, Senior Policy Advisor for The Nature Conservancy.
“As far as the military’s mission goes, the environment is a stage prop for practicing the art of war, and soldiers need a swamp to be a swamp, a desert to be a desert," says Barnes. "The military has to take good care of the land it’s got, because it’s not getting any more.”
Balancing the protection of natural resources with the military’s primary missions of testing and training is a challenging task. One of those challenges arose during the 1990’s at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where Sheehan once trained around endangered woodpecker habitat. Home to a huge expanse of longleaf pine – a habitat that used to extend from Virginia to Texas – it is important habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker, a federally-protected species.
In an innovative approach to meeting its legal obligations while continuing its vital training mission, the Army worked with The Nature Conservancy and others to develop a program, termed the Private Lands Initiative. This program aimed to reduce restrictions on training by finding and restoring habitat off the base, creating a functioning population of woodpeckers not in the middle of a training area. This proved so successful that in 2002, Congress enacted legislation based on the Fort Bragg experience to authorize such partnerships at bases and ranges throughout the United States.
This program, now termed the Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI), has resulted in partnerships similar to the one at Fort Bragg at 60 military bases in 24 states. The Nature Conservancy is active in many of those partnerships. Since the beginning of the REPI program, the military and its partners have together:
- Provided over $600 million to protect over 215,000 acres in some of the most ecologically important areas in the country;
- Protected the military’s ability to test and train; and
- Ensured the sustainability of some of our Nation’s most important military bases.
In 2013, The U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense and the Interior created The Sentinel Landscape Partnership – an initiative to recognize and incentivize landowners for continually maintaining working and natural lands that contribute to the nation’s defense. The Partnership coordinates mutually beneficial programs and strategies to preserve, enhance or protect habitat and working lands near military installations; reduce, prevent or eliminate restrictions that inhibit military testing and training; and prevent incompatible development near our military facilities. Avon Park Air Force Reserve (FL) in the Everglades Headwaters was designated a Sentinel Landscape in 2016.
Where We Work with the Military
These unlikely partners work together to ensure land isn’t lost – either as testing or training areas or wildlife habitat. Regardless of the reason, the end goal is the same. Here are some of the places where The Nature Conservancy has partnered with the Department of Defense.
Please note: List is not all-inclusive, and some locations are no longer active partnerships. Click each location if applicable for more partnership information.
- Avon Park Air Force Reserve, Florida (Sentinel Landscape)
- Fort Hood, Texas
- Camp Bullis, Texas
- Camp Shelby, Mississippi
- Fort Benning, Georgia
- Boardman Natural Resource Area, Boardman Bombing Range, Oregon
- Virginia Coast Reserve
- Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
- Camp Edwards, Massachusetts
- Fort Lewis, Washington
- Camp Ripley, Minnesota
- Fort Chaffee, Arkansas
- Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia
- Fort McCoy, Wisconsin
- Fort Huachuca, Arizona
- Fort Bragg, North Carolina
- Maine Army National Guard HollisTraining Area
- Fort Carson, Colorado
- Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
- Naval Base Kitsap, Washington
- Atlantic Test Range, Maryland
- Fort Polk, Louisiana
- Schofield Barracks, Hawai’i
- Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California