The USDA and the Departments of the Interior and Defense Wednesday announced a new partnership that will include local and private entities in preserving agricultural lands to assist with military readiness.
The program, called the "Sentinel Landscapes" partnership, will bring the agencies together in overlapping priority areas near military installations to help farmers and ranchers make improvements to the land that benefit their operation, enhance wildlife habitat, and enable DoD's training missions to continue.
The first pilot project will be in the South Puget Sound region of Washington State. Home to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, an important troop training facility, this region has some of the last remaining native prairie habitat in the state.
Only 3% of the original prairie habitat remains due to development. Several native species have been identified in the area.
Government agencies will work to restore 2,600 acres of this area on both public and private lands, allowing training activities at the Joint Base to move forward with more flexibility. Left unaddressed, this decreasing habitat could otherwise restrict testing and training on military installations, areas to which many species flee when displaced by development, the agencies said.
The creation of long-term or permanent easements will protect nearby agricultural and private lands from development and help preserve farms and rural culture. Wildlife habitat can be created and managed to benefit species as well as agricultural production and military readiness.
"This is a great example of a federal, local and private collaboration working together to achieve greater results for the American people – in this case by enhancing conservation efforts while ensuring our national defense," Vilsack said.
"As a result of this partnership between Federal agencies and private partners, producers will have greater certainty with regard to the environment, we'll protect habitat for at-risk species, and our Armed Forces will retain access to important training opportunities."