U.S. Marine Corps Major General (Ret.) Mike Lehnert wrote in an article for the Center for a Better Life that, “a country worth defending is a country worth preserving.”
And local members of the military are doing just that with a new program that will protect and restore prairies in Pierce and Thurston Counties.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM) were recently chosen to participate in a test project in partnership with the federal Defense, Interior and Agriculture departments.
“Thurston County Commissioners are working hard to protect agriculture and restore our prairies,” County Commissioner Sandra Romero told The Olympian. “This partnership is a cost-effective example of where we can achieve multiple goals including sustainable agriculture, endangered and threatened species protection, and drinking water protection.”
The new designation, called Sentinel Landscape, will protect prairie wildlife in south Puget Sound and also support conservation easements on local agricultural lands to ensure that farmers can continue to work their land. It also has the added benefit of maintaining a buffer between neighborhoods and military training areas so soldiers can conduct their programs without impacting civilian life.
The Sentinel Landscape designation builds on a long-standing partnership between the Bureau of Land Management, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Natural Resources, the Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) program, and other government and community groups. The JBLM ACUB program aims to protect and restore prairie habitats and increase the sizes and numbers of rare species populations on those lands.
ACUB support has enhanced conservation projects that are partially funded by WWRP funds. Sentinel Landscape expands the JBLM ACUB partners to include NRCS, private landowners, WA State Veterans Corps, and local jurisdictions.
Some of the prairies that will be used in this program have previously been funded by WWRP grants, including the Mima Mounds, West Rocky Prairie, and the recently-funded South Puget Sound Prairie and Oak Woodland.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said this program could be expanded to military communities in Eastern Washington and California should it prove to be successful in this first phase.
Because the military often maintains open fields and wildlife areas for training purposes, the armed forces have become a natural ally in helping communities reach their conservation goals.
Former bases have often been repurposed for recreation needs once the military no longer needed the space.
Around the Puget Sound, military installations were often used as strategic coastal defense points in the early 20th century. The government identified surplus lands the military no longer needed after conflicts came to a close, allowing cities to acquire the former bases to address a growing need for parks.
In 1973, what was formerly known as Fort Lawton, became Seattle’s Discovery Park. Other former military bases that now serve as parks include the Fort Worden State Park Conference Center near Port Townsend, Fort Steilacoom near Tacoma, Strawberry Hill Park on Bainbridge Island, Burke-Gilman Playground in Seattle and others.
Today, many of these areas are some of the Puget Sound region’s most popular parks.
Washingtonians can rest assured that our armed forces are finding innovative new ways to protect our great state for future generations.
Photo used with permission from South Sound Program at the Center for Natural Lands Management.