DoD - An Unlikely Guardian of our Nation's Resources

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Last month the Department of Defense (DoD) received high praise and tremendous visibility from National Public Radio (NPR) because of our efforts to protect natural resources. The NPR Morning Edition Feature, reported by Jay Price, showcased the DoD as “an unlikely guardian of endangered plants and animals” and described the Nation’s military installations as “the heart of an extensive conservation network.” Much of the work referenced in the NPR story and the accompanying narrative was made possible because of long term funding by SERDP. Those of us associated with the program are eager to point out that as one of the nation’s largest federal land managers, the DoD serves as steward of extensive natural resources. Military installations are safe havens for hundreds of listed and at-risk species. They encompass a wide variety of ecological systems that contribute to the nation’s biological diversity. The Department doesn’t oversee this amazing portfolio of land passively; it has established numerous programs to protect, maintain, and improve the natural resources that make up our installations. The SERDP and ESTCP Resource Conversation and Climate Change (RC) Program is just one of these programs but it is very unique and significant in the role it plays. Over the last ten years under the RC Program Area, 149 SERDP projects have been funded for a total of $180M and 40 ESTCP projects have been funded for a total of $40M. These efforts protect endangered plants and animals, enable us to sustain training lands, and help us understand the impacts of climate change with the ultimate objective of ensuring that the warfighters of today and tomorrow are trained and ready to respond when called upon by our Nation.

For the DoD, sustainability and the significant task of maintaining our training lands is imperative to the mission. The Department’s vision of sustainability is to maintain the ability to operate into the future without decline, either in the mission or in the natural and man-made systems that support it. The Department embraces sustainability as a critical enabler in the performance of the mission, recognizing that it must plan and act in a sustainable manner now in order to build an enduring future. Just as sustainability directly affects the ability of DoD to perform its mission in the future, so does the Department’s ability to be resilient to the impacts of climate change. Sustainability and adaptation to climate change go hand in hand with DoD’s efforts at continual improvement to ensure resilience and success.[1]

The RC Program Area has been quietly conducting critical work in this area for two decades. The NPR piece did a great job of highlighting the work the Department has done to sustain training lands, including development of a huge national conservation network of formal partnerships with environmental groups, universities, local governments, zoos, and even prison systems. DoD is protecting hundreds of rare species: butterflies in North Carolina, Washington, and Pennsylvania; manatees in Georgia; and dozens of birds and fish around the country. Much of this work would not have been possible without SERDP and ESTCP establishing and funding projects through the RC Program Area.[2]

The Department recognizes the importance and the challenge of ensuring that sustainability is incorporated into decision-making across the organization. The challenge of incorporating natural resource protection into investment decisions is exacerbated by the fact that the benefits of many resource conservation considerations are difficult to quantify, whether at the installation or Command level. The Department and SERDP and ESTCP are working to find more ways to help Installation Commanders and other decision-makers form an objective basis for making decisions on projects in a way that advances DoD’s sustainability objectives, beyond simple, traditional return on investment calculations.

[1] http://www.denix.osd.mil/sustainability/dod-sspp/unassigned/dod-sspp-fy-2015/

[2] http://wunc.org/post/pentagon-conservation-efforts-protect-rare-species-and-troops-training-grounds#stream/0

Photo Credit: Jenny McCarty

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