DoD Biodiversity Conservation Handbook
Chapters:Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11IntroductionCase StudiesAcknowledgements
Chapter 9: Show Me the Money

The United States spends lots of dollars on the environment at military installations – some $42 billion in the past ten years. Even considering that this sum is spread over almost 30 million acres, that's a lot of money. But the people who manage those acres are rarely heard to complain that their projects are overburdened with funding.

On the contrary: military land managers are always scrambling for more funds with which to conserve biodiversity. There's hardly ever enough in the budget to conduct the inventories, swat the invasive species, protect the threatened and endangered plants and animals, write, update, and implement the Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans, administer the Environmental Management System, keep up to date with (and execute) the growing number of rules, regulations, and executive orders that govern environmental protection on military bases – and keep pace with the latest findings and discoveries in environmental science, explain all they have learned to their base commanders, civil works engineers, and trainers, and, while they're doing all this, support the main mission of the military, which is to train people to win wars.

Monitoring to assess the impacts of military training on the endangered Black capped vireo and Golden-cheeked warbler at Fort Hood, Texas, is accomplished through a cooperative agreement with The Nature Conservancy. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Interest in and understanding of the need to conserve biodiversity have grown in recent years as scientists, the public, and policymakers have probed deeper into the interconnectedness of nature and natural processes, as well as the growing public awareness of climate change and its influence on life. This has come at the same time that the military's main mission – fighting a war – has become even more all important. Thomas Warren, chief of environmental programs at Fort Carson, Colorado, has a reputation for being one of the most innovative of dollar-finders. But, he recently commented, the coordinated suicide attacks on American targets on 11 September 2001 had changed all that: "Most innovative funding sources have virtually dried up since the implementation of the global war on terrorism over the last five years," he said. Many other installations' natural resources managers would agree with his assessment.

To supplement their conservation budgets, managers have found it necessary to come up with innovative ways of finding money, and some of them have become quite expert at it. Kyle Rambo, the director of the conservation division at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, does a lot of his work in coordination with the community surrounding his base (Rambo's operation is discussed in greater detail in chapter 10, Beyond the Fenceline.) And much of the money for his conservation operations comes from organizations outside the base. "Remember back to our smoking days?" Rambo asked. "What's the cheapest brand of cigarette out there? It's OP's – ‘other people's.' The best kind of money? Other people's money."

What DoD spends on the environment

According to its Fiscal Year 2006 report to Congress, the Department of Defense in that year obligated approximately $4.1 billion for environmental activities at more than 425 military installations. The breakdown for environmental expenditures:

  • $1.5 billion for compliance with applicable federal, state, and local environmental rules
  • $1.4 billion for environmental restoration at active and formerly active military sites
  • $568.2 million for activities required by the Base Realignment and Closure Act
  • $261.3 million for environmental technology
  • $204.1 million for conservation (natural and cultural resources programs)
  • $125.2 million for pollution prevention
Sources: Defense Environmental Programs: Annual Report to Congress: Fiscal Year 2006.; Environmental Compliance: Better DoD Guidance Needed to Ensure That the Most Important Activities Are Funded, GAO-03-639, June 17, 2003.

With that rule in mind, and with the knowledge that biodiversity conservation must proceed from a base of knowledge about what's out there to be conserved, Rambo has produced detailed inventories of species on his base. "We've invested a lot of money in inventory," he said. "So we know what we have." The database shows where endangered species are, where archaeological sites are, where water, sewer, and electricity lines run – all of which helps Pax River plan future expansion. But the inventory also serves as a magnet for scientific researchers, who will pay with in-kind expert research for having access to military installations to conduct their information gathering. And the researchers' findings go back into the database, so the inventory keeps growing.

"We don't ever pay a dime for research. There's plenty of people with research questions out there; we provide the laboratory, the space, and the opportunity. We provide human-wildlife interactions that are interesting to study and have other people pay to come in and do our work for us.

"We can offer access to the base, in a controlled environment and in an area with security – they can leave equipment out there. Cornell [University] is putting out automated listening devices, tracking big bird migrants and tracking migrations. We've got the land there; we've got controlled access. The researchers can then link what they find to on-the-ground bird researchers and say ‘We know these species arrived on this day because we caught them in our nets this day.' They can add this information to the data from the listening devices, and it compounds the benefits of their research."

Pax River's own outlay for such services is small and consists mostly of staff time. "And the other people are bringing in money," says Rambo.

Proceed to Next Section: Other People's Energy, Too

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Fred Powledge is a writer and editor.

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