USDA, Interior and Defense Departments partner to benefit agricultural lands, wildlife habitat and military readiness
WASHINGTON – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Defense Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Installations and Environment John Conger announced on July 10 a federal, local and private collaboration that will preserve agricultural lands, assist with military readiness and restore and protect wildlife habitat.
Through the Sentinel Landscapes partnership, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Department of the Interior (Interior) and Department of Defense (DoD) will work together in overlapping priority areas near military installations to help farmers and ranchers make improvements to the land that benefit their operation, enhance wildlife habitat, and enable DoD’s training missions to continue.
“This is a great example of a federal, local and private collaboration working together to achieve greater results for the American people – in this case by enhancing conservation efforts while ensuring our national defense,” Vilsack said. “As a result of this partnership between Federal agencies and private partners, producers will have greater certainty with regard to the environment, we’ll protect habitat for at-risk species, and our Armed Forces will retain access to important training opportunities.”
“Today’s announcement is a win-win for the American people and for the land and wildlife we cherish,” Jewell said. “We are taking an important step in addressing one of the greatest threats to wildlife in America today, loss of habitat, while helping to ensure the preservation of working landscapes and our military readiness.”
“The Department of Defense is committed to working together with other federal agencies to ensure we sustain a world-class training environment at military installations across the country,” Conger said. “This arrangement benefits our service members and is an innovative, efficient use of taxpayer resources. It has the added benefits of protecting important habitats for imperiled wildlife species and working lands in rural communities that surround military installations. I look forward to our applying this model at other locations across the country.”
A result of collaboration through the White House Rural Council, the federal agencies will kick off this partnership through a pilot Sentinel Landscape in the South Puget Sound region of Washington State. Home to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, an important troop training facility, this region has some of the last remaining native prairie habitat in the state.
Once covering 150,000 acres, only three percent of the original native prairie habitat remains due to development. Several of the at-risk species in this area include Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, the streaked horned lark, and the Mazama pocket gopher. A rare native plant, the golden Indian paintbrush, is already listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
DoD, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partner organizations will invest more than $12.6 million to restore and protect more than 2,600 acres of this important prairie habitat on both public and private lands, allowing training activities at the Joint Base to move forward with more flexibility.
Many NRCS conservation and DoD programs ease pressures that development puts on wildlife habitat, including DoD’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration program. Left unaddressed, this decreasing habitat could otherwise restrict testing and training on military installations, areas to which many species flee when displaced by development.
The creation of long-term or permanent easements will protect nearby agricultural and private lands from development and help preserve farms and rural culture. Wildlife habitat can be created and managed to benefit species as well as agricultural production and military readiness.
Building on the successes of USDA’s Working Lands for Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will provide regulatory predictability under the Endangered Species Act to ranchers who implement conservation practices in the pilot landscape, and is pursuing the possibility of granting ecosystem credits to DoD from the federal conservation investments.
With interagency and private collaboration, these Sentinel Landscapes will help preserve the land’s natural character while benefitting national defense, local economies and the conservation of natural resources.
The departments are reviewing additional sites for the partnership to collaborate in the future and will continue to capitalize on the USDA, Interior, DoD and local partners’ overlying priorities and programs.