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

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.

Military Requirements

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 impacts:

  • Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. How weapon systems are used affects their overall impact.
  • 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 groundwater.
  • 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.)

Community Concerns

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).

Ecological Context

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 positive effects.

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 ultimately fail.

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

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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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