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

Military Lands, Remoteness, and Population Growth

Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, occupies nearly 9,000 acres, three thousand of which have been set aside as buffers to protect the base's military mission against encroachment. Such buffer zones here, as well as on other military installations, are often regions of exceptionally high biological diversity. (Photo: Douglas Ripley)

A description of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, from the 1942 edition of Army Posts and Towns: The Baedeker of the Army, by Charles Jackson Sullivan, states: "Fort Bragg, for practically all purposes, is its own post town. It is ten miles from Fayetteville, population 18,000. You are most likely to get what you want . . . on the reservation than in any civilian community within easy reach." The fort reached an extraordinary peak population of 159,000 during the war years. By 1992, Fort Bragg was no longer an isolated military outpost. A DoD report found that "if some degree of compatible land use is not adopted, future development is likely to alter military operations and ultimately threaten the viability of Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base," its neighboring facility. Now the headquarters of the 82nd Airborne Division, today Fort Bragg is home to about 29,000 persons, according to the 2000 census.

Remoteness and isolation from population centers have always been valued when choosing sites for new military camps, posts and bases. Fort locations before 1900 were selected to best protect extended business interests (e.g. trappers, miners), enforce separation between Indian nations and expanding white settlements, and project the power of the United States. The Army was always too small for the task assigned to it, so it had to focus its resources on the frontier. It thus established forts in advance of expanding white populations. There was no competition for land or the best sites. Once established posts became surrounded by settlements, they were disbanded. U.S. policy was to let state and local militias provide the self-defense, once they were able.

Remoteness was still valued for fort and base selection into the twentieth century. This is best demonstrated by site selection for the construction of airfields. Aircraft technology expanded at a rapid rate from 1903 to 1941. The required runway length and unobstructed glide slope requirements of airfields grew at the same rate. By the mid-1930s, when Congress started approving military airfield construction programs as Depression-era relief, planners found that poor siting was degrading airfield capability. When planners sketched out new airfield sites, their calculations included potential future expansion. Large tracts of land were sought, away from the hazardous flying conditions of surrounding buildings.

Secondly, planners purposely sited airfields away from more heavily populated coastlines as a strategic defensive measure. Communities and states vying for the economic boost that a military airfield would bring to their region competed for these locations. They often donated or subsidized land for the military to locate near them. The donated land would be far enough from the community so that land prices were affordable. This was another factor that thereby tended to increase separation.

The mobilization for World War II brought with it a surge of construction and new military infrastructure that was unprecedented in American history. Mostly due to strong isolationist sentiment in the nation, Congress had provided only meager funds for military construction in the aftermath of World War I. The 32 installations that had been sited and built for that war had deteriorated significantly. The focus of the Quartermaster Real Estate Division of the 1920s was to divest the Army of surplus war property. With the exception of some Work Progress Administration and Public Works Administration projects directed toward defense (mostly airfields) in the 1930s, no new facilities were sited until the pre-World War II mobilization.

After Germany invaded Norway in the spring of 1940, the Roosevelt administration began to invest significant resources in construction of military installations. Planners would eventually work towards creating facilities for a 12 millionman army. From May 1940 to November 1941, the War Department acquired over 8.75 million acres of new land to support these new facilities. This was a significant transfer of land from the private to the public sector. Although published siting criteria (from the War Production Board) included economic and social objectives, resources conservation, ease of construction, ease of land purchase, and military significance tended to be the prime drivers. National and local politics had some influence, but this was muted by the speed of the mobilization. The War Department was able to play a heavy hand on where each base was sited. The need for rapid construction and real estate acquisition tended to favor more isolated installations. For the most part, these World War II acquisitions provided the military with the land base it has today. The major exception was a series of public land withdrawals in the West (mainly from the Bureau of Land Management) to support the expanding range of new weapon systems.

Even though remoteness from population centers was a critical factor in installation siting then, it most assuredly has not remained. The dramatic population increases near Fort Carson, Colorado, and Camp Pendleton, California, are just a few examples (see Figure 4.1). Similar encroachment has constrained most DoD installations.

Obviously, complete separation of the military and civilian communities is not an answer to encroachment. The perfect military training installation is not one that is totally isolated. There are also DoD-driven factors that draw local communities and military bases closer together. A viable military installation requires a viable employment base, especially as DoD tries to convert many uniformed jobs to civilians or contractors. Access to key transportation infrastructure is critical to mobilization of equipment to combat zones around the world. DoD has moved to integrate installation activities more closely with the civilian community. Examples include privatization of utilities, closing of Defense Department schools and health facilities, housing, and integrated postal services. The quality of life for service members has always been inextricably linked to the quality of community life. Now the linkage is even stronger.

Proceed to Next Section: The Value of Military Lands

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

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