At first glance, the U.S. military and The Nature Conservancy might seem like strange bedfellows. But the two share a common goal: the buffering of Florida’s military bases with protected conservation areas.
The Nature Conservancy, partnered with the Department of Defense, recently completed an analysis of natural areas surrounding 10 of Florida’s defense installations. The study sought land protection opportunities in a 10-mile zone around each base that could benefit both nature and the military.
Enjoying a Healthy Start
Working under a grant from the Florida Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development and administered by Enterprise Florida Inc., Richard Hilsenbeck led the Conservancy’s study. The effort resulted in a 218-page book replete with maps and recommendations.
“Especially when working with the landmark land-buying program Florida Forever and its predecessor Preservation 2000, agencies have done an excellent job of protecting conservation lands around many of Florida’s military installations,” said Hilsenbeck.
“State, county and federal agencies have already made a good start, and private organizations like the Conservancy have had positive impacts as well. But much land remains to be preserved.”
My How Things Have Changed
Originally, Florida’s military bases existed in natural areas far from cities and residential communities. They were – and still are – home to a large number of threatened and endangered species.
But growing human populations and changing land uses near the bases have led to encroachment issues. Complaints about military noise, dust, and smoke can force costly military mission adjustments and delays. And, endangered species have been displaced –sometimes pushed onto an installation where their presence might restrict operations. Natural areas help keep these issues to a minimum.
Realizing the value of buffering military bases with natural lands, the 2006 Florida Legislature amended the Florida Forever program to encourage such projects. This led to an urgent need to identify, rank and assign priority to available conservation opportunities. The Nature Conservancy took on the challenge.
A Method to the Madness
Extensive criteria were collected and used to rank and prioritize each property. The military installations provided detailed descriptions of their boundaries and the potential accident zones within and near their property. They also identified areas in the surrounding 10-mile buffer zone where possible mission-related noise, dust or safety issues might be of concern to neighbors.
The Conservancy identified nearby conservation areas and active Florida Forever projects. Rare species, imperiled natural communities, significant landscapes and coastal areas, linkages and wildlife corridors were evaluated along with wetlands, floodplain and surface water protection priorities. Sustainable forest management, forestland water recharge functions and even greenways and trails were factored in.
Finally, the Conservancy considered a wealth of information gleaned during its nearly fifty years of experience working with land owners and other local resources.
And Nature Wins
The Conservancy identified 63 sites that surround the 10 military bases as “Areas of Conservation Significance.” These were ranked with others within each installation’s 10-mile zone, and were also assigned priority on a statewide level. Currently 24 of the sites are targeted but not yet protected in active Florida Forever projects.
“This ecological assessment helps create a blueprint for future conservation action that has been enthusiastically welcomed by the military community,” said the Conservancy’s Deborah Keller, who serves as liaison between the two groups.
“Our report shows a strong need for continued funding through land-buying programs such as Florida Forever and the federal Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative.”
Next Steps for the Partnership
For decades, The Nature Conservancy has used detailed aerial photography, field surveys, land ownership patterns and other data to help protect critical landscapes around military installations. These efforts – and our partnership with the Department of Defense – will continue.
The Conservancy will also continue to work with local communities to develop and apply strategies that help protect military bases from incompatible development as well as support regional biodiversity.
It’s a solution that benefits both people and nature.
For more information about the ecological assessment, contact Deborah Keller at (850) 222-0199 x 107 or firstname.lastname@example.org.