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“Get Your Endangered Species Off My Bombing Range!”

A-10 training on bombing range in Nevada. Photo: DoD.

“The Department of Defense’s ability to conduct realistic live-fire training, weapons system testing, and essential operations is vital to preparing a more lethal and resilient force for combat. . . . Starting in the late 1990s, the Department became increasingly concerned about “encroachment” pressures adversely affecting the military’s use of training and testing lands. Specifically, military installations saw two main threats to their ability to test, train, and operate: nearby incompatible land uses and environmental restrictions to protect imperiled species and their habitats.”

Such problems are to be resolved by the DoD Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program. Among the threatening encroachments are lights from residential and commercial development that reduce the effectiveness of night-vision training; restrictions imposed because of noise, dust and smoke of military activities; civilian use of the frequency spectrum; communication towers, wind turbines, highways, and energy transmission lines; construction or drones that enable observation into sensitive mission areas; foreign ownership of adjacent properties; acoustic monitoring in sensitive Navy areas; development in an explosive stand-off buffering area or accident potential zones; and land development that pushes endangered species onto military lands.

The program employs “buffer partnerships” that include the DoD, private conservation groups, universities, and state and local governments. Also involved, often as additional funders, are other federal departments: Homeland Security, Energy, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce; and agencies, for example, the Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). REPI regards these as “win-win partnerships,” as they share the cost of land or acquire easements to preserve compatible uses and natural habitats, without interfering with bombing or other essential training exercises. In addition to the helpful funding, the military can muster impressive influence over local development authorities, town councils, and adjacent landowners.

We are reminded of the importance of networks in our political system, and their potential to dilute democratic control. Significant partners in REPI and related projects are quasi-governmental organizations (for example, local economic development corporations), regional associations, and nonprofit organization coalitions, such as the Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability, the Western Regional Partnership, the California Defense Communities Alliance (which works with the Governor’s Military Council), the Washington Military Alliance, and National Council of State Legislatures.

Through FY 2018, the Military Services have combined $857 million in DoD funds with over $788 million in non-Department partner contributions to protect more than 586,000 acres of land, safeguarding vital operating, test, and training assets and capabilities.