Buffers and Adjacent Land
History suggests that the U.S. population will continue to grow and require
greater land area. Weapon systems will become ever more capable, and land use
conflicts will inevitably become more common. The public will demand that government
meet the same environmental standards to which citizens are held. In the
end, the military could have its ability to train seriously curtailed, or the federal
government will be faced with extraordinarily expensive decisions to resolve the
issues. The task before military land managers, then, is to find ways to enable
communities and the military to grow together and share the available land, water,
and air. The creation of buffers offers a tried and proven way.
Any attempt to influence land-use decisions outside military property must consider
what drives those decisions, identify who cares, and determine why. Stakeholders
can generally be divided into three groups: federal and state governments,
local governments, and nongovernmental organizations. Federal and state land
"owners" have specific legal mandates to manage the land for specific purposes,
national or state interest. DoD, for example, manages its nearly 30 million acres
of land to generate, support, and sustain military forces.
Legislation passed in the 1920s established the roles of different levels of government
in land use regulation. Federal and state agencies generally do not have
direct authority to affect local land use decisions, but they do influence it indirectly
through regulations or permitting processes. Examples include the authority
to issue permits regulating actions affecting wetlands and pollution mitigation.
Local governments control land use more directly through zoning, segmenting
the types of activities so they do not intrude on each other. Local governments will zone to preserve their economic base and ensure the right mixes of industry,
agriculture, residential, and commercial properties to satisfy their constituents
and, increasingly, to protect the environment.
A growing voice in land use decisions comes from nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs) and other outside interests. As the U.S. population has become
larger and more mobile, it has also become more regional and less purely local in
orientation. Groups regularly coalesce around people's interests and act on regional
or even national scales. ngos generally have a core mission and seek to
promote that interest everywhere they can through many methods, such as political
advocacy, cooperative ventures, legal action, and education. These groups,
increasingly active as they are, must be engaged rather than ignored.
The good news is that there is significant commonality in the values these stakeholders
share. Membership in one group obviously does not preclude membership
in another. All military and civilians alike have a stake in the livability
of their communities. At the same time, there is utility in establishing or preserving
some measure of separation between military and community activities.
Buffers thus provide a mechanism for ensuring compatibility of interests.
Before planners can begin creating buffers, though, they will need to understand
what a buffer is. In its most basic form, a buffer is any sort of zone that
keeps two or more areas apart. The buffer can be a fenced-in area, a line of trees,
a body of water, or a set of otherwise invisible lines on a map. It can be a zone
declared to be demilitarized, or a greenbelt around a city. Often (perhaps usually)
buffer areas can be empty of population. They can be established to protect the
environment as nature reserves, separate residential from industrial areas, or for
dozens of other purposes. When used in a military sense, a buffer can serve to
separate the installation and its often dangerous activities, from bombing ranges
to aircraft approaches, from the surrounding civilian community.
Is a buffer's sole purpose to promote separation, enhance cooperation, or both?
How is the success of a buffer measured? Despite the term's frequent use in literature
and practice, it is not a well-defined concept. Scientists have been grappling
with the term "buffer zone" ever since it became widely used with UNESCO's Man
and the Biosphere (MAB) program and the Biosphere Reserves that were launched
in the 1970s.3 MAB's aim was to establish terrestrial and coastal areas representing
the main ecosystems of the planet and to protect them. Two major questions
emerged from that initiative: First, how can we conserve the diversity of plants,
animals, and microorganisms that make up the living biosphere and maintain
healthy ecosystems while, at the same time, meet the material needs and aspirations
of an increasing number of people? Second, how can we reconcile conservation
of natural resources with their sustainable use?4
The DoD is confronted by similar questions in attempting to reconcile military
training requirements and the community resource needs around its installations.
A successful buffer strategy must start with a common understanding of what
a buffer is. This is more difficult than one would expect. Buffers are used widely
and in a variety of ways. They can be local measures to mitigate intrusions from
one property owner to another, such as rules that separate industry from residences.
They can be focused on a specific purpose, such as agricultural riparian buffers to
protect waterways from soil erosion and contamination by farm chemicals. They
can be part of a regional or even global effort to protect a resource of value.
The definition of a buffer for each of these examples may differ. The difficulty
of defining "buffer" lies within the UNESCO biosphere dilemma. How do you reconcile conservation and development interests? Or, in the military's case, how do
you reconcile training and development?
For a buffer to be effective, it must be valued by all stakeholders. If the only
test is value added to the military installation, why have a buffer at all? If the military
is the only recipient of value, then surrounding communities probably will
not support the buffer. The buffer then is only an extension of the installation, so
why (some might ask) not just extend the installation boundary (and by the way,
pay for it with DoD funds)? For a buffer to be effective, it must include the interests
of all parties, its size must be adjustable, and it does not necessarily have
to be adjacent to the installation. It must only enhance each stakeholder's core
mission. It must have a clear purpose. A definition is offered here:
Any designated area, on or off an installation, that is managed with the aim
of enhancing the positive and reducing the negative impacts of military activities
on neighboring communities and neighboring communities on military activities.
Creating a successful buffer requires several elements. The armed services already
have employed a variety of tools for this purpose. The encroachment partnership
legislation that was part of the 2003 defense appropriation is one such
tool, but not the only one. Buffering success also requires three elements: military
requirements, the concerns of the surrounding community, and the environment.
Accurately and precisely assessing the impacts of encroachment is a difficult task.
To do it correctly, military managers must fully understand their weapon systems
and associated activities. Weapons systems are commonly thought of in terms of
their range and maneuver requirements, but this is insufficient. Resource requirements
translate into demands on property rights. Too often, such rights are
defined in unduly narrow terms. Law students are trained to treat property rights
as a bundle of sticks with each stick representing a different right (e.g., air, noise,
water, land, development, height). Range and training activities impact each stick
differently. Accordingly, military land managers need to evaluate their activities
in sufficient depth to fully capture the complete resources requirements. In addition
to weapons range and maneuver area requirements, these also have important
- Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. How weapon systems are used affects their
- Life-cycle Analysis. Cumulative small effects can magnify and expand the reach
of activities, thereby increasing total impact on communities. For example, the
accumulation of explosive residue in an aquifer creates a large plume of polluted
- Intensity. The frequency and duration of activities can produce variable impacts
on different resource components
- Local Conditions. Climate and terrain affect the way weapon systems are used.
Models of prevailing climatic conditions can help predict impacts and thereby
dictate changes in tactics.
Many useful tools are already available to DoD environmental professionals.
The Air Force Resource Capability Model "catalogues the volume and capability
of resources needed to carry out mission activities."5 Metrics or measures of
merit are established for each resource (air, land, and water). The Army uses the most thorough impact analysis tool for internal land management among the military
services. The Integrated Training Area Management (itam) program is a mature
program that is intended to systematically provide uniform training land
management across the Army.6 It attempts to integrate land stewardship principles
and conservation management practices to ensure that Army lands remain
viable for future mission requirements. It does this by establishing a systematic
framework with five components: a Range and Training Land Assessment (RTLA)
program7, a Training Requirements Integration (TRI) program, a Land Rehabilitation
and Maintenance Program (LRAM)8, a Sustainable Range Awareness program
(SRA)9, and a Geographic Information System (GIS).
The Marine Corps conducted an encroachment quantification analysis of
Camp Pendleton, California. This type of study assessed the capability of the
installation to perform each core training task. It, and other tools, convinced environmental
professionals to seek a thorough understanding of the mission requirements.
(For natural resources managers' enthusiastic acceptance of this idea
when writing an Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan, see chapter 11.)
The management of property and associated rights is inherently a local prerogative.
A buffer strategy that ignores this reality will most likely fail. The profusion
of stakeholders, combined with more accessible local government (compared to
the state or federal levels), makes consensus extremely difficult. The local economic
base, culture, and political structure all affect the development of buffers.
Commanders would do well to understand the composition and relationships
of local government structures. A typical community's land use planning may be
consolidated into one board or divided among several agencies, each having key
shares of responsibility (separate planning and zoning boards, for example). Different
agencies may have opposing interests. One may seek increases in the tax
base, for example, rather than concentrate on preserving existing land use. Knowing
who needs to be influenced is important. Federal and state legislators have
great influence on the success or failure of an encroachment strategy, and federal
and state agencies can play a role, especially if they are landowners near the installation.
Nongovernmental agencies may also have influence, whether they are
local or not. Frequent military personnel rotations tend to work against developing
the relationships so necessary for consensus decisions in these settings.10
Involvement in local land use forums is critical. Multiple installations around
the nation have achieved great results from participating in these gatherings.
Where none have existed, often the DoD has taken the lead and created them.
It is the best way to start to understand the complexities of local stakeholders.
One of the most effective ways a military installation can establish continuity
within the community is to organize a citizen's advisory committee that comprises
community leaders who meet regularly to discuss issues facing the installation,
including encroachment. For some installations these committees have been organized
in a very formal capacity whereby committee members are appointed by
the governor (e.g. Camp Ripley, Minnesota).
Human and industrial dynamics are only part of the equation for successfully implementing
a buffer strategy. Military and community impacts must be understood
in the context of the surrounding environmental landscape. The effects of military and community activities can either exacerbate or enhance ecosystem integrity.
Some management actions to correct problems, although well intentioned,
can go wrong. Avoiding mismanagement requires research, and an ecosystembased
approach is a preferred approach for focusing such research efforts. Ecosystem
dynamics will drive such things as the boundaries of the planning area and
the determination of indicators for buffer identification and success. Knowledge
of the species that regulate and enable the environment and its ecological
processes will enhance the likelihood that buffers will actually achieve their intended
Is there a solution for the encroachment that continues to pressure military installations
and the communities around them? Trends in population growth, regulatory
actions, social climate, and weapon systems indicate that this may be
difficult. As is the case with Earth's resources generally, there is too much competition
for too few resources.
If it is going to be successful and it must, since national security depends
upon it the military must work cooperatively with its neighbors. Conservation
organizations came to the realization over two decades ago that fences and hard
boundaries do not work when protecting a valuable resource. The military is
learning the same lesson. A buffer can't be viewed simply as a measure to force
separation between communities and military installations. Encroachment cannot
be stopped by erecting fences. Buffers need to be created and managed as
zones of transition and cooperation. Separation will only be temporary and will
Too often, encroachment is defined only in terms of the community's encroachment
on the military. But it obviously is a two-way problem. Military installations
are concerned about land use practices outside their boundaries, and
communities are concerned about activities inside those boundaries. Both bodies
worry about activities that cross the boundaries. Buffer actions accordingly must
include options across these boundaries.
Commanders need to engage encroachment on many fronts. Too often they focus
only on land acquisition. A successful strategy must include a whole spectrum
of buffer tools, such as those described in Table 4.1. (Note that several of these
tools may be employed only by governmental entities or through legislation,
rather than by a commander's action.)
Proceed to: Chapter 5 - Balancing Biodiversity Conservation With Multiple Uses