DoD Biodiversity Conservation Handbook
Chapters:Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11IntroductionCase StudiesAcknowledgements
Chapter 1: Biodiversity and the Military Mission; By  Bruce A. Stein, Ph.D

Evolving Approaches to Military Natural Resources Management

With the establishment of Yellowstone as the nation's first national park in 1872, the United States Army was charged with providing its protection and management. The Army continued to manage the early national parks until the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916. (Photo: Douglas Ripley)

The military is justifiably proud of its natural resources heritage and its tradition of stewardship. The armed forces have been called upon to oversee or manage public lands and natural resources since 1823, when timber and forest products used in shipbuilding were strategic resources (Siehl 1991).16 Before there was a U.S. Forest Service or a National Park Service, the cavalry and engineers of the U.S. Army managed the lands set aside as national parks. Over the past several decades the military has strengthened its commitment to natural resources management, responding to new challenges and incorporating new scientific and technological advances. This has led to the adoption of ecosystem-based approaches to management, and use of the principles of adaptive management.

With the outbreak of World War II, millions of acres were acquired by the military to house, train, and prepare troops for combat. Construction practices, training exercises, and tank traffic lead to serious environmental problems at many sites, including dust, mud, and erosion. In those years the military largely attempted to address these issues through cooperative agreements with the Agriculture Department's Soil Conservation Service and transfers of agronomists and foresters to military installations. Following the war, natural resources management progressed to include planting of ground cover crops and trees, while timber production, agricultural leasing, and hunting programs were put in place at many installations.

By the 1960s, there was a general shift in public policy toward "multiple use" of public lands and management for "sustained yield." This trend, in conjunction with declining military funding and increasing public pressure for access to military lands for recreation and commercial purposes, shaped natural resources management on military lands. Passage of the Sikes Act in 1960 provided the legal basis for wildlife conservation and public access for recreation on military land, and authorized the collection of fees and the development of cooperative plans by the military, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and state fish and game agencies. During this period, however, policies generally encouraged consumptive uses of natural resources, and the revenues generated from forestry and fish and wildlife programs became the major source of funding for installation natural resources management programs (Lillie and Ripley 1998). 17

The 1970s and 1980s were decades of increasing pressure on natural resources management programs. The National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and a host of other environmental protection statutes added demanding new requirements. The development of new weapons systems, which involved heavier vehicles and longer-range weapons, intensified damage and increased the military's need for additional and diversified training lands. With federal and state regulatory agencies emphasizing environmental cleanup and waste management, there was little institutional incentive to increase either staffing or funding for natural and cultural resources programs (Lang and Lillie 1995). Natural resources management programs continued to focus on game and revenue generating programs, such as agriculture, grazing, timber, and recreational hunting and fishing. It became increasingly clear, though, that the military was facing natural resources management challenges it was not well equipped to address. Poor management was leading to the loss of training lands, while compliance with environmental statutes such as the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Act was becoming an increasing burden on military operations.

Bat Box
This bat box at Naval Air Station KeyWest, Florida, is just one of many examples of wildlife habitat enhancements carried out on military bases across America. (Photo: Douglas Ripley)

As a way of better addressing these problems, in 1989 a directive was issued calling for the development of Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans (INRMPs) on all installations with significant natural resources.18 These plans, which are intended to help balance competing interests, began to set the stage for a new approach to resources management. This trend continued in the 1990s, with the military taking stock of its natural resources management responsibilities and considering new approaches for improving performance. Military departments completed audits of their programs and made commitments to complete biological (and cultural) resources inventories, and to improve training for natural resources managers.

Integrating land management with operational and training objectives was identified as key to ensuring the support of the military mission while managing natural resources. Geographic Information System (GIS) technology greatly facilitated analyses of land condition and training requirements and became a useful and widespread tool. The military also began reaching out to others in the government and the private sectors to provide additional expertise and to help develop solutions to common problems. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state fish and game agencies, usda Forest Service, and The Nature Conservancy were among the many organizations invited to serve as partners in developing new strategies for natural resources management on military lands.


The emergence of a new philosophy and ethic was evident in DoD's 1994 policy, "Implementation of Ecosystem Management in the DoD" ( The goal of that policy was to maintain and improve the sustainability and native biological diversity of terrestrial and aquatic, including marine, ecosystems while supporting human needs, including the DoD mission. The policy goes on to state that military installations will use ecosystem management to: (1) restore and maintain ecological associations that are of local and regional importance and compatible with existing geophysical components (e.g., soil, water); (2) restore and maintain biological diversity; (3) restore and maintain ecological processes, structures, and functions; (4) adapt to changing conditions; (5) manage for viable populations, and (6) maintain ecologically appropriate perspectives of time and space.

Various definitions for ecosystem management have been proposed, but fundamentally this approach focuses on management of complex systems by addressing underlying processes while taking into consideration not only ecological, but also economic and social concerns. It is often contrasted with single-resource management approaches, and a comparison with more traditional natural resources management is a helpful way to understand the essence of the ecosystem approach to management (Table 1.4).

The year 1995 marked a milestone in the military's efforts to develop an overall strategy for managing biodiversity on military lands. At the direction of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Environmental Security), a national dialogue was held under the auspices of the non-profit Keystone Center, which brought together DoD representatives with representatives of other government agencies and nongovernmental interests. The purpose of this dialogue was to develop policy guidance for enhancing and protecting DoD lands in a way that is integrated with the military mission.

The Keystone dialogue revealed strong support by the Department of Defense for biodiversity conservation on military lands and affirmed that the conservation of the department's exceptional natural heritage is important to the military for a number of reasons (Box 1.1). The report that emerged from that dialogue contained a number of suggestions for clarifying and improving military policies and programs, and for integrating mission planning and biodiversity conservation (Keystone Center 1996). One specific recommendation was for the development of a handbook outlining a "model process" for biodiversity conservation at the installation level that would be useful for installation natural resources management staff and mission leaders. In response to that suggestion, The Nature Conservancy developed for DoD the first edition of this guide: Conserving Biodiversity on Military Lands: A Handbook for Natural Resources Managers (Leslie et al. 1996) (available online at

Also in 1996, the military issued an explicit Instruction for its Environmental Conservation Program (DoD 4715.3). This instruction recognized the close interrelationship between ecosystem management and accomplishing biodiversity conservation. Consistent with maintaining the military mission, that program adopted the following biodiversity-related goals: (1) maintain or restore remaining native ecosystem types across their natural range of variation; (2) maintain or reestablish viable populations of all native species in an installation's areas of natural habitat, when practical; (3) maintain evolutionary and ecological processes, such as disturbance regimes, hydrological processes, and nutrient cycles; (4) manage over sufficiently long time periods for changing system dynamics; and (5) accommodate human use in those guidelines.


Perhaps the most significant development for military natural resources management since publication of the first edition of the biodiversity handbook was the 1997 amendment of the Sikes Act. As chapter 3 discusses in more detail, the Sikes Act Improvement Act requires that INRMPs be prepared and implemented on all installations with natural resources, and that they be prepared in cooperation with state and federal wildlife authorities and available for public review and comment. This legislation provided added impetus for installations to not only develop these plans, but to allocate the resources needed to put critical actions in place.

Another key shift has been the increasing recognition of the threat of encroachment on the ability of the military to continue making use of military lands, marine areas, and airspace for training. This recognition has given rise to the Sustainable Range Initiative (SRI), which is designed to ensure that DoD can preserve military readiness while protecting the environment and improving compatibility with local communities. The overarching policy for this program, Sustainment of Ranges and Operating Areas (DoD Directive 3200.15) was implemented in 2003 (see

The need to work cooperatively with a wide array of public and private partners is particularly apparent when dealing with range sustainability and encroachment issues. This collaborative approach was the focus of a 2005 White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation, which featured a number of successful examples involving military bases. The Executive Order on Cooperative Conservation (13352) designates DoD as one of the lead agencies, and the military has adopted cooperative conservation as a key strategy. While cooperative conservation is as much a philosophy as a specific approach, one mechanism that DoD has adopted for promoting cross-organizational collaboration is the Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI). This initiative – a part of the broader Sustainable Range Initiative – enables the military to partner with outside stakeholders to promote land conservation that supports the military mission and natural habitat, much in the way that Fort Bragg has successfully worked with the Sandhills Conservation Partnership.19

Proceed to Next Section: The 1996 Biodiversity Handbook "Model Process"

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Bruce A. Stein Ph.D is Vice President and Chief Scientist, NatureServe.

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