DoD Biodiversity Conservation Handbook
Chapters:Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11IntroductionCase StudiesAcknowledgements
Chapter 4: Too Close for Comfort: Encroachment on Military Lands

On May 22, 2001, members of the House Armed Services Committee first heard testimony that formally introduced Congress to the term "encroachment." It was loosely defined at the time as "external influences that can have the effect of threatening or constraining training." Congressman Curt Weldon implored the body's Military Readiness Subcommittee and witnesses that day to focus on the "effect encroachment has on our training and readiness levels." Although the Department of Defense (DoD) proposed no definitive solutions to the problem, senior Defense representatives detailed examples where encroachment had limited or stopped training activities. In subsequent years, the DoD has characterized encroachment as taking a number of forms.

Forms of Encroachment

Endangered Species and Critical Habitat

Currently, DoD lands are home to at least 355 species that are listed, proposed, or candidates under the Endangered Species Act.1 Successful efforts in managing habitats, combined with destruction of these habits outside installation boundaries, have resulted in military ranges becoming havens for at-risk species. In some cases, protection of endangered species on military lands has restricted use of training areas. Furthermore, recent moves by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to designate parts of these ranges as critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act may reduce the military's flexibility to use the designated training lands even further, thus jeopardizing its testing and training mission.

Unexploded Ordnance and Munitions

The DoD is concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could apply provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to the intended use of military munitions, thereby shutting down or disrupting training on active ranges.

Frequency Encroachment

The growth of consumer communication devices has resulted in pressure from the telecommunications industry to reallocate portions of the radio frequency spectrum from federal to non-federal control. DoD is concerned that the available and adequate spectrum may not be able to support current and future military operations and training requirements.

The construction of luxury housing immediately adjacent to Camp Bullis, San Antonio, Texas, has the potential to create conflicts with the Army's training activities. (Photo: Douglas Ripley)

Maritime Sustainability

Provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act require that DoD consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service on any activities that may "harass" marine mammals. Some in DoD feel that the regulatory definition for harassment is too expansive, and that interpretation could unnecessarily restrict operations and training activity.

Airspace Restrictions

Increasing airspace congestion from commercial sources restricts the military's ability to provide effective testing and training of pilots. Expansion of the cellular phone industry and wind power energy development promises towers that are hundreds of feet tall which impede training, particularly when they interfere with the flight path. The accident potential zone (APZ) of established airfields frequently encompasses private lands that have been developed or are in the planning stages of development, not realizing that the APZ exists.

Encroachment Defined

Like many things, encroachment thrives in the eye of the beholder. To the civilian who lives near an airfield, it may be the scream of jet engines that drowns out a favorite TV soap opera. To the airfield's commander, it may be the housing development that presses ever closer to a runway approach.

J. Douglas Ripley, writing in chapter 3 of this handbook, defines encroachment succinctly as "the cumulative result of any and all outside influences that inhibit normal military training, testing, and operations." And a 2003 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers document states: "Encroachment is any outside activity, law, or pressure that affects the ability of military forces to train to doctrinal standards or to perform the mission assigned to the installation. Pressures result from urban growth near installations, noise, legislation protecting habitat, regional fragmentation, airspace use, and stakeholder group issues."

Air Quality

Air quality regulations could limit DoD's ability to install equipment for units to train. Conformity rules require federal agencies to analyze emissions from proposed projects or activities. Application of these rules could limit the department's ability to transfer missions to new locations. This is especially critical for re-basing decisions that result from base realignments and closures elsewhere. Air opacity limitations restrict the military's use of obscurant smoke, ground maneuvers and prescribed fire for hazard reduction and environmental management.


Even though weapon systems are exempt from the Noise Control Act of 1972, pressure from community, regional, and state organizations could serve to restrict or reduce military training due to noise. Unfortunately, restrictions on the existing noise environment will be exacerbated by future missions as weapons systems change.

Urban Growth

Incompatible commercial or residential development and activities near military installations compromise the health and safety of both military and civilian communities. Limitations caused by sprawl could reduce the effectiveness of military training activities.

If left unchecked, the growing pressures of the various issues summarized above could have a significant impact on military training.

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About This Chapter's Author
John Elwood is a Colonel, USAF National Guard Bureau, Andrews AFB, Maryland.

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