IRNR has integral role in national conservation programBy Kathy Wythe
The Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources (IRNR) is playing an integral role in a new nationwide federal, local and private collaboration dedicated to natural resource sustainability for areas surrounding military installations.
IRNR is assisting the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of the Interior in developing a viable framework and executing the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, according to Bruce Beard, associate director for IRNR’s military sustainability program.
Through this partnership, announced recently in Washington, D.C., the three federal agencies and other entities have committed to work together in priority areas near military installations, recognizing those areas as Sentinel Landscapes.
Beard said large rural landscapes are vital to sustaining agricultural productivity and protecting wildlife habitat.
“However, large landscapes are also important to preparing this country’s military for the challenges of combat,” he said. “Yet, many training and testing areas, once remote, are now encroached upon by competing demands, such as urban sprawl, habitat fragmentation and energy siting.”
By maintaining certain landscapes as farms, ranches, timberlands, or simply open space, landowners have for years — and without due recognition — significantly contributed to the nation’s defense, according to a Sentinel Landscapes fact sheet. Through the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, landowners will be recognized and rewarded for using their lands in ways that are compatible with the military mission and will be encouraged to continue those land-use practices well into the future.
“The vision for Sentinel Landscapes is to better engage private landowners and frame a truly comprehensive and cost-effective landscape approach to protecting the military’s test and training mission,” Beard said.
"The Sentinel Landscape approach is different than other conservation programs because it promotes working lands, conservation and national defense together," said Dr. Roel Lopez, IRNR director. “Other programs conserve land and wildlife, but we need to also bring those conservation efforts strategically around military lands, and Sentinel Lands meets that need."
Beard said IRNR’s military sustainability program is providing its land grant expertise in sustaining the environment and building economic and social vitality in local communities.
“Conservation, working lands – including farming, ranching and forestry – and national defense, each has unique requirements,” Beard said. “We can apply our land grant expertise in helping to find where those interests share commonalities, and where mutual support provides desirable outcomes for each mission.”
“We hope that through our role in advancing Sentinel Landscapes, we can, by example, encourage and advocate land grant and other university engagement in supporting private land stewardship in a manner that both protects military readiness and sustains rural communities,” Beard said.
“Texas A&M can serve a leadership role in supporting Sentinel Landscapes, which serves the land-grant mission in providing practical and timely solutions to maintaining rural landscapes and economies," Lopez said.
The first pilot Sentinel Landscape is in the South Puget Sound region of Washington state. Home to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, this region has some of the last remaining native prairie habitat in the state.
The Defense Department, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partner organizations will invest more than $12.6 million to restore and protect more than 2,600 acres of the prairie habitat on both public and private lands. Wildlife habitat will be created and managed to benefit species as well as agricultural production and military readiness, according to a USDA news release.