Sliver of Overlap

An old target from the days of extensive Navy bombardments now decorates the scenic coast line of San Clemente Island Caption/Credit: AP/Lenny Ignelzi
An old target from the days of extensive Navy bombardments now decorates the scenic coast line of San Clemente Island, California
Caption/Credit: AP/Lenny Ignelzi

In one of those unexpected incongruities life sometimes has to offer, the US Department of Defense turns out to be a major player when it comes to supporting biodiversity.

There are always a variety of reasons people and groups become involved in conservation, and a variety of people who are conservationists. Hunters, community and environmental activists, and so on. And many of them share similar conservation goals, but with diverse points of departure, different motivations.

In the case of the US military ranges, the areas under protection are also often the location of military drills and target practice. So it might come as a surprise that the Pentagon, traditionally known for seeking exemptions from environmental restrictions, had a 2012 budget of $73 million earmarked for the protection of threatened and endangered species on 28 million acres (11 million ha, or 43,000 sq. m) of federal land.

A fascinating report and booklet, published by NatureServe in collaboration with the DOD back in 2008, outlines how and why US federal lands set aside for military range might implement protections for flora and fauna. The driving motivation is clearly stated in The Commander’s Guide for Conserving Biodiversity on Military Lands.

Camp Pendleton, California spreads over an area of 200 sq. m (52,000 ha) and borders three state counties.
Image: trulia.com

What are the stated reasons for conservation work on military land? From the Commander’s Guide: “Conservation engagement aids environmental compliance and averts legal conflicts; helps maintain quality of life for installation personnel; provides realistic training conditions for troops; protects installation resources and helps build good relations with citizens beyond the fence line.”

In short, it makes it easier for the Department of Defense to conduct its business if it works together with environmentalists to avoid conflict. Not the usual environmental group’s mandate.

It’s a paradox that the locations where the destructive ability to wage war is practiced are also where DOD purchases of buffer zones end up limiting loss of habitat.

As an article this year stated, “Bases have inadvertently preserved wetlands, old-growth forests, and tall-grass prairies by halting urban sprawl. The Marine Corps’ 125,000-acre Camp Pendleton is the largest undeveloped coastal stretch between Los Angeles and San Diego, with about 15 federally listed wildlife species.”

Watch out for foxes Credit: AP/Lenny Ignelzi
Watch out for foxes
Credit: AP/Lenny Ignelzi

I am not arguing that this work negates the effects military training has on endangered animals and habitat in other contexts, the impact of sonar training on marine animals being one case that comes to mind. Nor am I arguing that the military is, by definition, innately beneficial to the environment. I’m not even sure why this item was recently in the news, since I can’t find any major change in the program over the past few years, with exception of a budget increase.

Still, even a small sliver of agreement and mutual strategies on habitat and species protection is worth more than just passing acknowledgement.

Building bridges across divides can remind us of what we share, rather than what divides us.

What I am saying, in a nutshell, is that the mere fact of having different agendas on a spectrum of issues doesn’t rule out having shared goals on others.