DoD Biodiversity Conservation Handbook
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Chapter 4: Too Close for Comfort: Encroachment on Military Lands

One Way Street?

Often, though, the military frames the encroachment issue in a unidirectional manner: It is the community that's encroaching on military activities. A landowner in North Carolina, quoted in a local newspaper, sees it differently: "We are not encroaching on Fort Bragg, Fort Bragg is encroaching on us."

Military demands for land and airspace have grown dramatically since World War II. A World War II infantry battalion operated in a 4,000-acre maneuver space. According to current Army publications, a maneuver space of 61,281 acres is now necessary to train a battalion task force. The required training space is expected to triple again as information dominance, a concept that recognizes the importance of communication, computers, intelligence, and surveillance, becomes increasingly important. Total space is not the entire issue; irregular shape and terrain can also be a factor. Fragmentation of habitat due to environmental restrictions further exacerbates the problem.

Airspace training requirements have grown significantly, also. A World War I dogfight between opposing aircraft occurred within visual range. A World War II fighter required a five-nautical-mile maneuvering radius. Modern aerial fighters require about 80 nautical miles (Rubenson 1996).

For the Navy, deeper draft vessels are having an increasing impact as dredging is required to maintain port facilities. Moreover, changes in naval strategy that require more ships to operate in coastal areas increase the Navy's need for training space closer to population centers (ibid.).

No military installation, range, or training space is sized sufficiently to conduct unobstructed ground brigade or air wing training maneuvers to the full capabilities of U.S. weapon systems. The military's use of resources exceeded the boundaries of its installations sometime in the last half-century. Installations have become proficient in working around or avoiding these obstructions; alternatively, they have become accustomed to using a larger share of surrounding regional resources (air, land, water) than exist in their inventory.

The military's "free" use of the air, space, and land resources is now challenged on many fronts. As much as communities value the positive effects of having a military installation in their community, they almost assuredly will become less tolerant over time of the intrusive effects of military training. The level of community tolerance varies from installation to installation, depending on the relationship that has been fostered by the commanders with community leaders and the general public. In addition, the economic impact that the installation has on the surrounding communities is an integral factor in the degree of tolerance and/or level of annoyance that is tolerated.

In the face of local, regional, and national pressures, the military has tried to adjust its training activities to resolve perceived or real conflicts. These "good neighbor" changes have generally been initiated at the local level. Commanders, when faced with operational restrictions, will invariably find other ways to conduct training. The armed services have dubbed such procedures "workarounds," and some observers believe their net effect can be a diminished sense of realism and expanded limits on commanders' ability to train. These workarounds generally take the following forms:

New suburban homes with ocean views atop ridgeline overlooking Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton just north of San Diego. (Photo: Douglas Ripley)
  • Reductions in Training Frequency. Training activities are skipped or the cycle for repeating them is lengthened.
  • Reduction in Training Duration. Training ranges often experience reductions in available time. Training exercises are often reduced in duration to fit into the reduced time allotments.
  • Changed Locations. Training is moved to different, frequently more constrained, locations on the same installation. Under extreme circumstances this may result in abandoning or wasting valuable training facilities that will otherwise have to be reconstructed at an alternative location on the installation. If such locations are not available, training may be moved to areas off the installation. This compounds cost and personnel requirements.
  • Reductions in Size. Units are trained in smaller groups to reduce impacts (platoons are trained, rather than companies, for example).
  • Segmentation. Linear training (such as an amphibious invasion) is broken down into sequential tasks (such as marshalling, beach movement, inland movement, then breakout maneuvers), and not performed continuously and completely – and, thus, realistically.
  • Administrative Halts. Training is temporarily halted to avoid sensitive places or times.
  • Unrealistic Timing. Training activity is avoided during specific times to avoid encroachment. Examples of this are stopping nighttime or weekend training, or avoiding training in certain areas during nesting season for an endangered species.
  • Use of Simulations. This can range from the injection of minor false restrictions in the field (e.g., no live fire) to the complete substitution of virtual training for live training (e.g., video simulations).
  • Limits on Task Execution. The types of activities conducted during training are restricted. Examples include declining to use smoke, limiting digging of foxholes, and altering runway approaches for aircraft.
  • The effects of military training must be anticipated and addressed in planning. Impacts on communities should be managed, especially since community expansion is almost inevitable. Encroachment-based collision is imminent, if not already occurring, at all military installations. It is unlikely that the problem can be made to vanish through legislation. Military installations can, however, mitigate the impacts if commanders are vigilant in establishing positive community relations that enable installations to be participants in long-range comprehensive planning and zoning with all surrounding communities. However, because planning and zoning are subject to change, a more comprehensive encroachment strategy is needed by all installations. A comprehensive and inclusive encroachment strategy is the preferred way to achieve that goal.

    Proceed to Next Section: Military Lands, Remoteness, and Population?

    © Copyright 2008. NatureServe.

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John Elwood is a Colonel, USAF National Guard Bureau, Andrews AFB, Maryland.

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