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Federal Agencies Pool Money To Preserve Buffer Around Military Base

Spc. Reese Von Rogatsz
US Army

Urban development around military bases in the Northwest and across the nation is creating a headache for the U.S. Defense Department. So Wednesday, several federal agencies announced they will pool money to preserve buffer lands, starting with Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma.

Federal and state money will be used to buy conservation easements or buy property outright to prevent development on more than 2,600 acres of farmland and prairie. The land is in Thurston County, Washington near Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Deputy Undersecretary of Defense John Conger says preserving habitat off-base reduces pressure to restrict military training exercises on-base. "It's an increasingly thorny problem as development comes closer and closer to bases that were once remote and endangered species take refuge on the only lands that can't be developed - the military installation itself."

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says if this cooperative template works out at Lewis-McChord, it could later be expanded to other base environments -- in eastern Washington and California, for example.

The $12.6 million budget for the first so-called "Sentinel Landscapes" partnership comes from the Defense Department, USDA, U.S. Department of the Interior, several state agencies, Thurston County and the non-profit Center for Natural Lands Management.

The non-profit group's program manager Hannah Anderson says previous federal grants for South Puget Sound prairie conservation got the ball rolling a while ago. "The Sentinel Landscapes designation is really built on the shoulders of years and years of cooperation by multiple partners," Anderson said.

She said conservation easements will be acquired from "willing sellers," many of which have already been identified.

On the Web:

Sentinel Landscapes partnership announcement - US Department of the Interior

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.