DoD Biodiversity Conservation Handbook
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Chapter 1: Biodiversity and the Military Mission; By  Bruce A. Stein, Ph.D

The Role of Military Lands in Maintaining Biodiversity

Jim Creek
In the early 1990s the Navy used DoD Legacy Program funds to acquire timber rights on over 200 acres of old growth forest at the Naval Radio Station Jim Creek inWashington, one of the best remaining low-elevation old growth forests in the Cascade Range. It is managed by the Navy as a watershed, a buffer zone for radio antenna facilities, and a superb recreation area for military personnel and their families. (Photo: Douglas Ripley)

Camp Pendleton is situated in the midst of one of the nation's most intense biodiversity hot spots (Figure 1.6). Not surprisingly, then, a considerable number of rare and endangered species live here, including at least 17 federally listed species. And as natural lands disappear elsewhere in coastal California, the importance of the base's habitats for sustaining the region's rich and threatened biodiversity increases. But Camp Pendleton is just one of many Department of Defense installations that play an important role in maintaining biodiversity.13

Lands managed by the Department of Defense in the United States cover almost thirty million acres, and span a wide array of different ecosystems, representing many of the major land and climate types in which soldiers may be expected to fight wars. This includes harsh desert terrains like the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, mountainous regions like Colorado's Fort Carson, and balmy coastal areas as at Florida's Eglin Air Force Base. Many of these lands were designated for military use long ago, and are situated in some of the premier wildlands across the country. And because a primary mission for most of these bases is training troops in realistic outdoor settings, they often contain excellent examples of their region's wildlife habitat. Over the past twenty years in particular, the military has made a serious commitment to understanding and documenting the wildlife, including rare and endangered species, found on its lands, as a means both to comply with environmental regulations and to work proactively to sustain its resource base.

One way to consider the role of military lands for maintaining biodiversity is to compare the number of species found on defense lands with those of other federal agencies. Several past studies have come to the conclusion that military lands harbor a disproportionate number of at-risk and endangered species. An analysis conducted by NatureServe and The Nature Conservancy (Groves et al. 2000), and based on inventory data from state natural heritage programs, found that Department of Defense lands contained a greater number of species with status under the Endangered Species Act than those of any other federal agency. Because that study was based on data current as of 1996, NatureServe recently has carried out an updated analysis, taking into account changes in the species added to and removed from the federal endangered species list, and additional distribution data from inventories conducted over the past decade.

Based on current information, lands managed by the Department of Defense now appear to harbor about the same number of species with status14 under the ESA (about 355) as lands managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service (USFS) (Figure 1.7) (Stein et al. 2008). The DoD, however, manages just one-eighth of the land area managed by the Forest Service (193 million acres). The significance of military lands for biodiversity is particularly striking when viewed from the perspective of number of esa status species per million acres (Figure 1.8). Species with status under the Endangered Species Act are only a portion of the total number of plants and animals that are at increased risk of extinction and of conservation concern. Considering instead the number of NatureServe-defined critically imperiled (G1) and imperiled (G2) species, military lands appear to harbor at least 458 such species,15 ranking third in number of imperiled species behind the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Looking across the services (Figure 1.9), Army bases have more than twice the number of both ESA status (227) and imperiled (267) species than do Navy installations (108 and 130 respectively).

The top ten military installations for ESA status and imperiled species reflect the overall patterns of biodiversity described earlier, with bases in areas such as Hawai‘i, California, and Florida well represented (Tables 1.2, 1.3). Four of the top five bases are in Hawai‘i – Schofield Barracks Military Reservation, Makua Military Reservation, Lualualei Naval Reservation, and Pohakuloa Training Area – highlighting the extreme levels of endemism and risk associated with the native Hawaiian biota. The military's Hawaiian holdings clearly are a major factor in defining the overall number of esa status species on DoD lands. The Department of Defense has more discrete land holdings in Hawai‘i than any other federal agency, and although many are fairly small in size, as a whole they touch upon a wide variety of biologically distinctive zones, each of which has its own distinct assemblage of rare species. Indeed, more than one-third (34.5%) of all ESA status species on DoD lands are from Hawai‘i.

Proactive conservation of imperiled species and their habitats on and around DoD installations can help preclude the need for federal listing as well as reduce recovery costs. For this reason, a previous NatureServe study focused on identifying species at risk occurring on or adjacent to military lands that could benefit from proactive conservation efforts to avoid the need for possible federal listings (Benton et al. 2004). For purposes of that study, "species at risk" were defined as plant and animal species not yet federally listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but that are either designated as candidates for listing or are regarded by NatureServe as critically imperiled or imperiled. A total of 523 at-risk species were found to occur on or near DoD installations, of which 47 were federal candidates, 136 were critically imperiled, and 340 imperiled. Interestingly, 24 of these at-risk species appear to be restricted to individual DoD installations, and 82 have at least half of their known occurrences on individual installations. Overall, nearly one-third (30 percent) of military installations had at least one species at risk.

Proceed to Next Section: Evolving Approaches to Military Natural Resources Management

© Copyright 2008. NatureServe.

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About This Chapter's Author
Bruce A. Stein Ph.D is Vice President and Chief Scientist, NatureServe.

Literature Cited
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